Quebec Won’t Ask Population to Use COVID 19 Contact Tracing Smartphone App

August 25, 2020 Updated: August 25, 2020

MONTREAL—The Quebec government says it won’t recommend Quebecers download the federal COVID-19 contact tracing smartphone application—at least for now.

Eric Caire, minister responsible for digital transformation, said Tuesday the app isn’t needed at the moment because the province’s infection rate is in decline.

“Given that the pandemic is under control … in Quebec with the measures in place, the government of Quebec has decided not to go ahead with a contact notification application app,” he said.

But, Caire added, health officials are still doing the groundwork needed to deploy a contact tracing app if it becomes necessary in the future.

The free and voluntary COVID Alert app uses random Bluetooth codes, not location data, to notify users if their phones have recently spent time near the phone of a person who later tests positive for COVID-19.

The app is linked to the Ontario health system and the federal government said it planned to deploy the technology across the country.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Tuesday that federal officials would like as many Canadians as possible to download the app.

“Sometimes Canadians or people who reside in this country do travel interprovincially,” she said in Ottawa. “Having an application that can apply across jurisdictional borders is very helpful.”

Tam added, however, that the app was only “one layer of protection,” in addition to all the other measures governments were taking to control the pandemic.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said Tuesday his province remains open to using the technology but wants more time to evaluate it and to address public concerns. “I think we didn’t say no. We said we don’t need it right now.”

An online public consultation conducted in July and early August indicated that 77 percent of the 16,456 Quebecers surveyed believed the app could be useful, and 75 percent said they were ready to install it.

Dube said the numbers suggest there’s still “nervousness” surrounding the idea of the app, even though most Quebecers are open to it under certain conditions.

But Premier Francois Legault, speaking in St-Hyacinthe, Que., later in the day, said many Quebecers, as well as the province’s three main opposition parties, were uncomfortable with the technology.

“What we see in Quebec is that at least a good part of Quebecers are scared about protecting their personal data,” he said. “So they don’t agree with this tracing application.”

A number of experts who testified in front of a Quebec legislative commission also expressed concern about contact tracing apps.

Legault said that if an app is needed, he’d prefer to use one developed in Quebec.

By Morgan Lowrie