To Trace or Not to Trace

2 minute read

As provinces and territories begin to slowly reopen, discussions around contact tracing remain paramount to diminishing the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing is a tool that can help track people that could be infectious and in turn isolate them from others to stop the spread of the virus. It can be done manually or through the use of apps. While Canada has bolstered manual tracing efforts over the months of the pandemic, the implementation of apps remains rather stalled, and the problem is two-fold.  

The first challenge is establishing consensus amongst the various jurisdictions about the implementation of a national contact-tracing strategy. It is not entirely clear whether the responsibility lies with provinces and territories or the federal government. The second major impediment is privacy. Canadians are rightfully worried about the use of their data collected through these apps. 

The efficacy of contact tracing apps relies on wide scale adoption by the general population. Only by participating and sharing data can the technology be useful. This has been proven by the successful integration of such an approach in countries like Germany and South Korea.  

The federal government is currently mulling over several smartphone apps to support contact tracing efforts. A number of provinces have also looked at developing their own contact tracing apps. Alberta is already using the ABTraceTogether app and Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he supports a national, co-ordinated approach. With the federal government’s recent injection of $14 billion to help provinces and territories reopen, contact tracing is one of many key measures the PM said the money should be earmarked for. In order to successfully implement effective contact tracing, the federal government and provinces will need to work out their responsibilities in order to execute a contact tracing strategy. The urgency of such conversations comes as Canada prepares for a likely second wave. 

With the country starting to reopen, the threat of a second wave is now more prevalent than ever. Contact tracing is an important tool in the pandemic response to ensure that COVID-19 can be better tracked and contained.

Determining how to effectively deploy contact tracing in Canada while resolving questions around jurisdiction and privacy will require consensus building and leadership from the federal government. The Prime Minister has been repeatedly asked about contact tracing by the media but the public has yet to receive a clear indication of the path forward. Assertive leadership and collaboration will be essential to the implementation of a national contact tracing strategy.

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