COVID Alert app now active in Manitoba

Canada’s COVID-19 exposure notification app, COVID Alert, is now active in Manitoba.

The province became the fifth in the country to enable the app on Thursday. The app uses Bluetooth to notify users if they’ve been in contact with another user who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The app officially launched in Ontario in July. Since then, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have also signed on.

The free, voluntary app works by exchanging random codes between smartphones via Bluetooth every five minutes.

The technology estimates how close users are based on the strength of the signals it receives. If a pair of users are assessed to be closer than two metres for than 15 minutes, the app records it as an exposure, the federal government’s website says.

A user who tests positive can enter a one-time key from their health authority, which instructs the app to notify other users who were exposed to that person.

The app doesn’t use GPS to track users’ locations, and it won’t access users’ names, addresses, phone contacts or health information, it says.

Its launch comes as Manitoba records a rising number of COVID-19 cases, especially in Winnipeg. As of Wednesday morning, Manitoba had 599 known active cases of COVID-19, including 509 in its capital city.

“Our government’s No. 1 priority is to keep Manitobans safe,” Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said in a written release from the federal government Thursday.

“The COVID Alert app is an additional measure to help inform Manitobans and Canadians and limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

More than 3M downloads

More than three million Canadians have downloaded the app since it launched in July, the federal government said in a news release Thursday.

More than 500 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have entered that information into the app, to inform other users of possible exposures.

Earlier this week, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the app doesn’t replace the province’s contact tracing. But he urged Manitobans to sign up, and said the app needs large-scale public buy-in if it’s going to be effective.

“Now is the time to download that COVID Alert application,” Friesen said Monday.

Canadians can download COVID Alert for free from the App Store or the Google Play Store, but only people living in provinces that have activated the technology can actually use it.