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COVID-19: Are digital contact tracing apps worth the privacy trade-off? – CTV News

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TORONTO —
As governments around the world turn to technology for solutions on slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, privacy experts are left asking another question: Are digital contact tracing efforts worth the privacy trade-off?

These apps, which use cellphone data to monitor people’s movements and warn them of any contact with COVID-19-positive patients, require users to opt-in and voluntarily disclose their health data.

Although experts say the developers of these apps may have admirable intentions, they say digital contact tracing has significant limitations from both an efficacy and privacy standpoint, and shed light on the risk of additional surveillance.

“After 9/11, we saw the rapid expansion of surveillance in response to a national crisis, and it quickly dawned on me that this could be a similar scenario,” Samuel Woodhams, digital rights activist at U.K. firm Top10VPN, told CTVNews.ca by phone.

“It’s something that I think that we need to be wary of, because otherwise there is a real danger that these things will be implemented and never repealed, and we’ll be living in a very, very different sort of society after this all, hopefully, comes to an end.”

Woodhams has been tracking the global rollout of these apps since mid-March in an effort to shed light on initiatives that could threaten digital rights.

Of the 53 contact tracing apps available globally, Woodhams’ data shows that 25 per cent have no privacy policies and 57 per cent use GPS technology over Bluetooth, allowing a greater risk for users to be tracked physically on a map.

Last week, Alberta became the first province to launch a voluntary contact tracing app, which uses the privacy preferred Bluetooth technology to track users. New Brunswick, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan are also looking at or planning on releasing similar initiatives.

These apps have been in use in other countries, including Singapore and Australia, since March.

But it remains unclear just how useful these apps are when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Some allow users to self-diagnose their symptoms, while others rely on users to voluntarily report whether or not they have tested positive for the virus, raising questions of reliability.

But Woodhams notes that no matter how privacy focused these apps may be, they will not be a silver bullet.

“They are not going to solve the issue at hand, which is which is often missed,” he said.

When asked about the risk to Canadians’ privacy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said finding a balance between privacy protections and data gathering will be “extremely important.”

“We have a number of proposals and companies working on different models that might be applicable to Canada. But as we move forward on taking decisions, we’re going to keep in mind that Canadians, put a very high value on their privacy, on their data security,” he said during a press briefing last week.

“We need to make sure we respect that, even in a time of emergency measures and significant difficulty and crisis. We’re going to get that balance right.”

UNDERESTIMATING SURVEILLANCE CAPABILITIES IN DEMOCRACIES

But apps aren’t the only area of concern when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of what this pandemic has done is shown us the kind of surveillance capabilities that a lot of democratic countries have had for a very long time,” Woodhams said.

“It’s just that they’re now being implemented in a way that a lot of people will find acceptable.”

During the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, Woodhams notes that North American media outlets were quick to report on the “dystopian” surveillance measures being taken to enforce lockdowns in the region, such as drones equipped with loudspeakers that patrolled the streets.

In the months that followed, as the virus spread rapidly throughout the world, Spain, Italy and even the U.K. took similar measures with police services deploying drones to monitor the streets.

“We were seeing a lot of reports about China’s approach to the virus and a lot of the reporting was essentially using this as a means of exploring China’s surveillance state,” he explained.

“I think that a lot of the time we really do underestimate the technological capabilities within democracies to surveil their own citizens.”

He notes that contact tracing apps, if voluntary, may eventually fade into obscurity when the virus starts to dissipate. But companies are already seeking to profit off of what Woodhams describes as a “surveillance creep” brought on by the pandemic.

“There is this general push of surveillance creep that I think that we need to be very on top of and document,” he said.

“Because as much as we can get bogged down with the specifics about which app may be better than another, this is a general trend in which surveillance companies are having a field day — and they’re going to try to make as much money out of this as they possibly can.” 

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Nova Scotia reports no new cases of COVID-19 for first time since March – Toronto Star

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HALIFAX—Nova Scotia increased its social gathering limit on Friday as the province reported no new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since its initial infections were identified in mid-March.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, called the development a “significant and encouraging milestone” in a province that has seen a continuing downward trend in new cases over recent weeks.

It kept the total number of confirmed cases at 1,055, including 978 people who have recovered from the virus. Eight people are currently in hospital and three of them are in intensive care.

“It hasn’t been easy but we are seeing positive results,” said Strang.

Nova Scotia announced more details of a reopening plan set for next Friday, even as neighbouring New Brunswick put the brakes on expanding the current phase of its plan. That province is dealing with a growing cluster of new cases in the Campbellton area, allegedly caused by a health-care worker who returned from Quebec and didn’t self-isolate.

Strang was asked about what lessons Nova Scotia could take from the Campbellton outbreak.

“The message in that is really about the importance of self-isolation when you cross borders,” he said. “What it shows us is the importance of very closely monitoring our borders. We need to be very thoughtful and careful about how we lift those border restrictions.”

Premier Stephen McNeil announced a new gathering limit of 10 people effective immediately — a doubling from a limit of five that was imposed when health restrictions were put in place in late March.

Physical distancing of two metres would still be required, except among members of the same household or family “bubble.” The limit is the same indoors and outdoors, with exceptions for outdoor weddings and funeral services which can have 15 people.

Strang clarified that when it comes to weddings, that limit of 15 would have to include photographers and caterers if that’s what couples wanted in their ceremonies.

He said the gathering limit also applies to arts and culture activities such as theatre performances and dance recitals, faith gatherings, and sports and physical activity. Businesses such as theatres, concerts, festivals and sporting activities would also have to adhere to the 10-person limit.

“We are watching our epidemiology and will consider expanding the way people can have close social interaction when we see how this first stage in the reopening is going,” said Strang. “It’s very important that we don’t introduce too much risk of COVID-19 at any one time and we have the capacity to monitor the effect of any steps.”

McNeil said that private campgrounds would also be allowed to open, but would only operate at 50 per cent capacity and must ensure public health protocols are followed, including adequate distancing between campsites.

Provincial campgrounds are scheduled to open June 15 at reduced capacity to ensure a minimum of six metres between individual sites.

The latest measures came two days after McNeil announced that most businesses required to close under a public health order in late March would be allowed to open next Friday, provided they are ready with a plan that follows physical distancing protocols.

The list of businesses includes bars and restaurant dining rooms, hair salons, barber shops, gyms and yoga studios, among others.

Some health providers would also be allowed to reopen, including dentistry, optometry, chiropractic and physiotherapy offices. Veterinary services can also operate along with some unregulated professions, such as massage therapy, podiatry and naturopathy.

Earlier Friday, the province announced it would add 23 new long-term care beds because of a need resulting from some facilities slowing or stopping admissions during the pandemic.

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It said it is entering into an agreement with Shannex RLC Ltd. to convert a floor at the Caritas Residence, a private assisted-living home in Bedford, N.S., into nursing home beds.

Residents would be able to move into the facility in early June and will be tested for the virus before being admitted.

According to the government, there are 132-long term care facilities in Nova Scotia.

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Condition in kids with possible COVID-19 link being studied in Canada – Terrace Standard – Terrace Standard

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B.C. and Alberta have become the latest provinces in Canada to investigate cases of an unusual syndrome in children, which doctors around the world are studying to see if there’s a definitive link to COVID-19.

The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital are each examining 20 possible cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C.

Earlier this week, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announced doctors are looking into one suspected case in the province, while British Columbia said it is investigating half a dozen cases.

“Because there isn’t really a definitive, one specific test that says, ‘yes, you have multisystem inflammatory syndrome’ or ‘you don’t,’ I don’t think that the cases themselves are 100 per cent clearly defined from children who might have some other type of infection,” said Dr. Jeremy Friedman, the associate chief of pediatrics at SickKids.

“It might take a little bit of time to really be absolutely certain about how many cases that are being investigated are actually truly related to COVID.”

Friedman’s team at the Toronto hospital have also been in contact with the study at Sainte-Justine run by Marie-Paule Morin, a pediatric rheumatologist.

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to doctors about MIS-C. The agency’s case definition includes current or recent COVID-19 infection or exposure to the virus, a fever of at least 38 C for at least 24 hours, severe illness requiring hospitalization, inflammatory markers in blood tests, and evidence of problems affecting at least two organs that could include the heart, kidneys, lungs, skin or nervous system.

The CDC said some children may have symptoms resembling Kawasaki disease, a rare condition that can cause swelling and heart problems.

In other parts of the world, the illness is also called Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome (PIMS).

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday that while little is known about MIS-C, ”it seems to be more something that happens as a result of (a child’s) immune system going into overdrive after an infection and causing this inflammatory response in multiple organs.”

Hinshaw gave little information about the province’s first suspected case, other to say that the child is stable in hospital.

In Toronto, Friedman said one of the 20 children had to be admitted to an intensive care unit. All have responded well to treatment and have gone home.

There have been no reported deaths linked to MIS-C in Canada, but some children have died from the illness in New York, France and the United Kingdom.

Friedman said it is “highly suspicious” that there seems to be an increase in children presenting MIS-C symptoms about a month after the peak in the number of COVID-19 infections in their communities.

“That seems to be a consistent time that people are seeing this uptick,” he said.

But Friedman noted that none of the children at SickKids tested positive for an active coronavirus infection. His team has blood samples from each child that will then be tested for COVID-19 antibodies.

Although Health Canada has recently approved two serological tests, Friedman said he is waiting to hear from provincial experts on which one is most accurate.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recently published MIS-C guidelines for clinicians and caregivers and is tracking and studying the illness nationwide.

“This syndrome is still very new, and scientists and doctors are learning about it in real time,” the society said in an email Friday.

“The CPSP study will provide essential, timely information about how children are being affected, which children are at highest risk, and will enable us to adjust best practices for prevention and care based on evidence.”

Friedman said parents should be vigilant about signs of MIS-C, but they shouldn’t be alarmed since the numbers are low and the condition is treatable.

“This is definitely going to add to what we know about COVID and hopefully some aspects of what we learn will inform the development of vaccines,” he said.

“It’s quite reassuring to know that we can all learn from each other and that is happens in a pretty rapid sequence.”

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press

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Condition in kids with possible COVID-19 link being studied in Canada – Lacombe Express

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British Columbia and Alberta have become the latest provinces in Canada to investigate cases of an unusual syndrome in children, which doctors around the world are studying to see if there’s a definitive link to COVID-19.

The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital are each examining 20 possible cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C.

Earlier this week, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announced doctors are looking into one suspected case in the province, while British Columbia said it is investigating half a dozen cases.

“Because there isn’t really a definitive, one specific test that says, ‘yes, you have multisystem inflammatory syndrome’ or ‘you don’t,’ I don’t think that the cases themselves are 100 per cent clearly defined from children who might have some other type of infection,” said Dr. Jeremy Friedman, the associate chief of pediatrics at SickKids.

“It might take a little bit of time to really be absolutely certain about how many cases that are being investigated are actually truly related to COVID.”

Friedman’s team at the Toronto hospital have also been in contact with the study at Sainte-Justine run by Marie-Paule Morin, a pediatric rheumatologist.

This month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to doctors about MIS-C. The agency’s case definition includes current or recent COVID-19 infection or exposure to the virus, a fever of at least 38 C for at least 24 hours, severe illness requiring hospitalization, inflammatory markers in blood tests, and evidence of problems affecting at least two organs that could include the heart, kidneys, lungs, skin or nervous system.

The CDC said some children may have symptoms resembling Kawasaki disease, a rare condition that can cause swelling and heart problems.

In other parts of the world, the illness is also called Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome (PIMS).

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday that while little is known about MIS-C, ”it seems to be more something that happens as a result of (a child’s) immune system going into overdrive after an infection and causing this inflammatory response in multiple organs.”

Hinshaw gave little information about the province’s first suspected case, other to say that the child is stable in hospital.

In Toronto, Friedman said one of the 20 children had to be admitted to an intensive care unit. All have responded well to treatment and have gone home.

There have been no reported deaths linked to MIS-C in Canada, but some children have died from the illness in New York, France and the United Kingdom.

Friedman said it is “highly suspicious” that there seems to be an increase in children presenting MIS-C symptoms about a month after the peak in the number of COVID-19 infections in their communities.

“That seems to be a consistent time that people are seeing this uptick,” he said.

But Friedman noted that none of the children at SickKids tested positive for an active coronavirus infection. His team has blood samples from each child that will then be tested for COVID-19 antibodies.

Although Health Canada has recently approved two serological tests, Friedman said he is waiting to hear from provincial experts on which one is most accurate.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recently published MIS-C guidelines for clinicians and caregivers and is tracking and studying the illness nationwide.

“This syndrome is still very new, and scientists and doctors are learning about it in real time,” the society said in an email Friday.

“The CPSP study will provide essential, timely information about how children are being affected, which children are at highest risk, and will enable us to adjust best practices for prevention and care based on evidence.”

Friedman said parents should be vigilant about signs of MIS-C, but they shouldn’t be alarmed since the numbers are low and the condition is treatable.

“This is definitely going to add to what we know about COVID and hopefully some aspects of what we learn will inform the development of vaccines,” he said.

“It’s quite reassuring to know that we can all learn from each other and that is happens in a pretty rapid sequence.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2020

— With files from The Associated Press

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press

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