Government shutting down COVID Alert app, sources say

The federal government will be shutting down the COVID Alert app and may do so as early as this week, government sources have told CBC News.

The sources spoke to CBC News on the condition they not be named because they’re not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The Globe and Mail first reported the news.

The phone app, which was launched in the summer of 2020, is designed to alert users to possible COVID-19 exposure. Users who have tested positive for the virus use a one-time key on the app to report their diagnoses. Their phones then exchange codes with other phones that have the app installed, and notify those who have been within two metres of an infected person for 15 minutes or longer.

The federal government encouraged use of the app throughout the pandemic. The app doesn’t collect personal information such as locations, addresses and phone contacts.

COVID Alert has been downloaded just 6,893,423 times and only 57,704 one-time keys to report infection have been used, according to the government. Canada has seen 3.87 million COVID-19 infections and 41,000 related deaths since the pandemic began.

Experts have questioned the app’s effectiveness in limiting the spread of COVID-19, saying it would have required far more downloads and information from users in order to work. The emergence of the more infectious Omicron variant may also have hurt the app’s ability to track infections.

Users in British Columbia, Alberta, Nunavut and Yukon are unable to get one-time codes to report COVID-19 infections. There’s also been confusion about whether the app is functioning.

The app cost $20 million. Most of that money — $15.9 million — was spent on promotion and advertising, while $3.5 million went to developing and maintaining the app.

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