Canada to ramp up COVID-19 testing and tracing, recommend digital app

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will ramp up COVID-19 testing and contact tracing as it gradually lifts restrictions and is working closely with Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google on a mobile phone app to help, the prime minister said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: A worker looks out after police officers placed butterfly stickers on windows at a retirement residence on Mother's Day, after several residents died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pickering, Ontario, Canada May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

In his daily news conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government was already helping Ontario, the most populous province, with contact tracing and was open to do the same for the other 12 provinces and territories.

Businesses and citizens “need to know that we have a coordinated approach to gradually reopen that is rooted in science, evidence and the ability to rapidly detect and control any future outbreaks,” Trudeau said.

The western province of Alberta said on Friday it would test anyone in long-term care facilities, where most of the deaths have been recorded, even if they have no symptoms.

Canada’s total cases rose to 81,765 on Friday, and deaths were up less than 2% to 6,180, official data showed.

With contagion slowing, provinces have been gradually reopening in recent weeks.

On Friday, Quebec said museums, libraries and drive-in movie theaters can open from May 29. In Calgary, the biggest city in Alberta, barber shops and hairstylists can restart from May 25, and restaurants and bars will be able to offer table service at half capacity.

On May 1, Alberta rolled out a digital-tracing tool to monitor outbreaks.

The apps are meant to help trace and call people who have come into contact with an individual infected with COVID-19.

Trudeau had not promoted the use of a tracing app, but on Friday he said the government was working “closely” with Apple and Google and would “strongly recommend” one as soon as their tracing technology is ready.

Critics are concerned that it will undermine civil liberties and privacy.

Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by Jeff Lewis; Editing by Alistair Bell and Marguerita Choy