July 31, 2020 / 3:43 PM / 14 days ago

Canada extends travel ban to August 31, launches COVID-19 contact tracing app

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Friday extended a measure barring most foreign travelers from entering the country and launched a new contact tracing app as part of its fight to control the “gate-crashing” coronavirus pandemic.

Undated screengrab showing "COVID Alert", a new contact tracing app rolled out by the Canadian government. App Store via REUTERS

The extension to Aug. 31 applies to foreign travelers entering Canada from outside the United States. It came despite calls from Air Canada and some European aviation companies for Ottawa to restore safe travel.

Canada has a separate agreement for border crossings with the United States. The two countries earlier this month agreed to extend restrictions on non-essential travel to Aug. 21.

While new infections and deaths in Canada have moderated in recent weeks, officials have urged people to stay on high alert and border restrictions are aimed at preventing a second wave.

Canada’s chief public health officer warned Canadians on Friday that the “gate-crashing” virus could flourish again if they fail to follow guidelines.

“Summer doesn’t make the virus go away. It is right there, waiting for an invitation to a party or gathering,” Theresa Tam told reporters.

As of Thursday, Canada has reported 329 new COVID-19 cases taking the total to 115,799, and 8,929 deaths, 12 more than the previous day.

Canada’s new contact tracing app, officially launched on Friday, will help alert Canadians when they may have been exposed to the coronavirus. It was first announced in May.

“The COVID Alert app is ready to download through the app store on your phone,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters. “This is another tool to protect your health.”

The app will only be fully functional in Ontario at first, but the government hopes to have it working across the country in the coming days.

The government used code from Shopify Inc and worked with Blackberry Inc on security for the app. It uses an exposure notification tool developed by Alphabet Inc’s Google and Apple Inc.

Using Bluetooth to send random codes between phones, the app can trace and contact people who have been exposed to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.

Critics have raised concerns the app could undermine civil liberties and privacy. Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement that the app contained “very significant privacy protections.”

“I will use it,” Therrien said.

Alberta has its own app, with 231,000 registered users. The province has not decided whether it will participate in the roll-out of the federal app.

Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown

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