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Canadians can now download new COVID-19 exposure-alert smartphone app

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OTTAWA — Canadians can now begin downloading a voluntary smartphone app meant to warn users they’ve been near someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he downloaded the “COVID Alert” app Friday morning and said the more people who sign up to use it, the better it will be able to trace — and help to slow — the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Health experts say that if enough people sign up, this app can help prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19 in Canada,” Trudeau said Friday in Ottawa during a visit to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The app is designed to track the location of phones relative to each other, without collecting personal data anywhere centrally, using digital identifications unique to each device.

Then users can be notified if their phones have recently been near the phone of a person who later volunteers that they have tested positive for COVID-19.

The app will then encourage users to call their provincial health services for advice on what to do next.

“I want to be clear: this app isn’t mandatory. It’s completely voluntary to download and to use,” Trudeau said. “And it doesn’t collect your name, address, geolocation, or other personal information.”

Trudeau said the app is currently linked to the Ontario health system, but anyone in Canada can begin using it today and more provinces are joining it soon.

He said the Atlantic provinces will be the next to link their health systems to the app and the federal government is in talks with other provinces too.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

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TORONTO — As COVID-19 restrictions ease and restaurants start to welcome customers back, one thing Canadians may soon have to get used to is providing their personal information before they grab a bite. 

Guidelines for restaurants vary in each province. But some jurisdictions are requiring a customer’s name and phone number or email address, along with their table number, to help with contract tracing in the event of an outbreak.

Ontario announced Friday that it will require bars and restaurants to keep client logs for 30 days. These will have to be disclosed to the medical officer of health or an inspector if tracing is needed.

In Toronto, collecting the info can be done at the time of reservations or through another system, said Toronto Public Health spokesperson Vinita Dubey.

Dubey said indoor bars and restaurants present a higher level of risk for COVID-19 transmission because they involve crowds, close contact and closed spaces.

“As soon as (Toronto Public Health) becomes aware of a COVID-19 case, we act on the information to follow up immediately,” Dubey said in an email.

Similar guidelines apply to restaurants and bars in British Columbia.

That province’s public health officials have started requiring restaurants to collect personal information from customers when they make reservations or at the time of seating. The details also have to be kept for a month.

Since reopening, Acorn Restaurant in Vancouver has only been taking reservations, which makes it easier to collect customer information.

“Thankfully our guests have been pretty understanding,” said founder Shira Blustein. “Some guests have been equally anxious to be out so they’re appreciative of our plan.”

Gerald Evans, chair of the infectious diseases division at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said contact tracing was done at restaurants even before COVID-19.

Public health officials have used reservation lists to contact diners in the event of a food-borne outbreak, he said.

“It’s not unprecedented in the restaurant industry that public health would reach out to them and get that kind of information.”

Evans said one drawback is that there is no way to verify the information a customer is giving is correct.

“Now, 99 per cent of the public is going to be truthful, but what do you do with the one per cent?” he asked.

If people giving false information becomes a problem, governments could potentially step in to make sure that people have to show an ID card to verify their identity, Evans suggested.

He said collecting customer information is much more effective than “passive tracing,” in which public health does a broad announcement about a case at a specific restaurant on a certain day. That practice has been criticized by some restaurant owners.

Restaurants Canada vice-president David Lefebvre said there are costs associated with collecting personal details. And it can be time-consuming for places that provide quick service to a lot of customers.

“Our position as an association on this is: let’s make sure everybody, as a recommendation, respect the public health requirements,” he said.

“But at the same time, let’s make sure that it’s not something that becomes too onerous and costs too much.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2020

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press

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Top Story CP

Leave your deets when dining: Restaurants taking personal info to trace COVID-19

Published on

TORONTO — As COVID-19 restrictions ease and restaurants start to welcome customers back, one thing Canadians may soon have to get used to is providing their personal information before they grab a bite. 

Guidelines for restaurants vary in each province. But some jurisdictions are requiring a customer’s name and phone number or email address, along with their table number, to help with contract tracing in the event of an outbreak.

Ontario announced Friday that it will require bars and restaurants to keep client logs for 30 days. These will have to be disclosed to the medical officer of health or an inspector if tracing is needed.

In Toronto, collecting the info can be done at the time of reservations or through another system, said Toronto Public Health spokesperson Vinita Dubey.

Dubey said indoor bars and restaurants present a higher level of risk for COVID-19 transmission because they involve crowds, close contact and closed spaces.

“As soon as (Toronto Public Health) becomes aware of a COVID-19 case, we act on the information to follow up immediately,” Dubey said in an email.

Similar guidelines apply to restaurants and bars in British Columbia.

That province’s public health officials have started requiring restaurants to collect personal information from customers when they make reservations or at the time of seating. The details also have to be kept for a month.

Since reopening, Acorn Restaurant in Vancouver has only been taking reservations, which makes it easier to collect customer information.

“Thankfully our guests have been pretty understanding,” said founder Shira Blustein. “Some guests have been equally anxious to be out so they’re appreciative of our plan.”

Gerald Evans, chair of the infectious diseases division at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said contact tracing was done at restaurants even before COVID-19.

Public health officials have used reservation lists to contact diners in the event of a food-borne outbreak, he said.

“It’s not unprecedented in the restaurant industry that public health would reach out to them and get that kind of information.”

Evans said one drawback is that there is no way to verify the information a customer is giving is correct.

“Now, 99 per cent of the public is going to be truthful, but what do you do with the one per cent?” he asked.

If people giving false information becomes a problem, governments could potentially step in to make sure that people have to show an ID card to verify their identity, Evans suggested.

He said collecting customer information is much more effective than “passive tracing,” in which public health does a broad announcement about a case at a specific restaurant on a certain day. That practice has been criticized by some restaurant owners.

Restaurants Canada vice-president David Lefebvre said there are costs associated with collecting personal details. And it can be time-consuming for places that provide quick service to a lot of customers.

“Our position as an association on this is: let’s make sure everybody, as a recommendation, respect the public health requirements,” he said.

“But at the same time, let’s make sure that it’s not something that becomes too onerous and costs too much.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2020

Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press

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august, 2020

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