LONDON — Goodbye lockdown, hello smartphone.
The race by governments to develop mobile tracing apps to help contain infections after coronavirus lockdowns ease is focusing attention on privacy. The debate is especially urgent in Europe, which has been one of the hardest-hit regions in the world, with nearly 140,000 people killed by COVID-19.
The use monitoring technology, however, may evoke bitter memories of massive surveillance by totalitarian authorities in much of the continent.
The European Union has in recent years led the way globally to protect people’s digital privacy, introducing strict laws for tech companies and websites that collect personal information. Academics and civil liberties activists are now pushing for greater personal data protection in the new apps as well.
Here’s a look at the issues.
WHY AN APP?
European authorities, under pressure to ease lockdown restrictions in place for months in some countries, want to make sure infections don’t rise once confinements end. One method is to trace who infected people come into contact with and inform them of potential exposure so they can self-isolate. Traditional methods involving in-person interviews of patients are time consuming and labour intensive, so countries want an automated solution in the form of smartphone contact tracing apps. But there are fears that new tech tracking tools are a gateway to expanded surveillance.
Intrusive digital tools employed by Asian governments that successfully contained their virus outbreaks won’t withstand scrutiny in Europe. Residents of the EU cherish their privacy rights so compulsory apps, like South Korea’s, which alerts authorities if users leave their home, or location tracking wristbands, like those used by Hong Kong, just won’t fly.
The contact-tracing solution gaining the most attention involves using low energy Bluetooth signals on mobile phones to anonymously track users who come into extended contact with each other. Officials in western democracies say the apps must be voluntary.
The battle in Europe has centred on competing systems for Bluetooth apps. One German-led project, Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, or PEPP-PT, which received early backing from 130 researchers, involves data uploaded to a central server. However, some academics grew concerned about the project’s risks and threw their support behind a competing Swiss-led project, Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, or DP3T.
Privacy advocates support a decentralized system because anonymous data is kept only on devices. Some governments are backing the centralized model because it could provide more data to aid decisionmaking, but nearly 600 scientists from more than two dozen countries have signed an open letter warning this could, “via mission creep, result in systems which would allow unprecedented surveillance of society at large.”
Apple and Google waded into the fray by backing the decentralized approach as they unveiled a joint effort to develop virus-fighting digital tools. The tech giants are releasing a software interface so public health agencies can integrate their apps with iPhone and Android operating systems, and plan to release their own apps later.
The EU’s executive Commission warned that a fragmented approach to tracing apps hurt the fight against the virus and called for co-ordination as it unveiled a digital “toolbox” for member countries to build their apps with.
The approach Europe chooses will have wider implications beyond the practical level of developing tracing apps that work across borders, including the many found in the EU.
“How we do this, what safeguards we put in, what fundamental rights we look very carefully at,” will influence other places, said Michael Veale, a lecture in digital rights at University College London who’s working on the DP3T project. “Countries do look to Europe and campaigners look to Europe,” and will expect the continent to take an approach that preserves privacy, he said.
COUNTRY BY COUNTRY
European countries have started embracing the decentralized approach, including Austria, Estonia and Switzerland, and Ireland. Germany and Italy are also adopting it, changing tack after initially planning to use the centralized model.
But there are notable exceptions, raising the risk different apps won’t be able to talk to each other when users cross Europe’s borders.
EU member France wants its own centralized system but is in a standoff with Apple over a technical hurdle that prevents its system from being used with iOS. The government’s digital minister wants to roll it out by May 11 but a legislative debate on the app was delayed after scientists and researchers warned of surveillance risks.
Some non EU-members are going their own way. Norway rolled out one of the earliest – and most invasive – apps, Smittestopp, which uses both GPS and Bluetooth to collect data and uploads it to central servers every hour.
Britain rejected the system Apple and Google are developing because it would take too long, said Matthew Gould, CEO of the National Health Service’s digital unit overseeing its development. The British app is weeks away from being “technically ready” for deployment, he told a Parliamentary committee.
Later versions of the app would let users upload an anonymized list of people they’ve been in contact with and location data, to help draw a “social graph” of how the virus spreads through contact, Gould said.
Those comments set off alarm bells among British scientists and researchers, who warned last week in an open letter against going too far by creating a data collection tool. “With access to the social graph, a bad actor (state, private sector, or hacker) could spy on citizens’ real-world activities,” they wrote.
Despite announcing plans to back European initiatives or develop its own app, Spain’s intricate plan for rolling back one of the world’s strictest confinements doesn’t include a tracing app at all. The health minister said the country will use apps when they are ready but only if they “provide value added” and not simply because other countries are using them.
By The Associated Press
Pandemic has pumped up popularity for PM and most premiers – Assiniboia Times
When a government is forced to face an unexpected crisis, its original plans usually become the first victim. There were few mentions of U.S. President George W. Bush’s push for “compassionate conservatism” after Americans realized the gravity of the 9/11 attacks. The staunchly anti-deficit Stephen Harper was compelled to send Canada’s federal budget into the red as prime minister, but only after the size of the 2008 global financial crisis became evident to all.
The way in which elected politicians have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to review which leaders are living in the present, and which ones operate with a playbook that has not been updated. Brazil, Mexico and the United States are examples of national administrations whose response to the crisis can be described as flat-footed, ideologically motivated and excruciatingly unscientific.
When 2019 was about to draw to a close, most political discussions in Canada concentrated on a perceived lack of unity in the country.
Last December, 40% of Albertans and Quebecers told Research Co. that their provinces would be better off as independent countries – a significantly higher proportion from the Canada-wide average of 25%.
In that same survey, we outlined the problems of two premiers. At the time, 60% of Ontarians wished for someone other than Doug Ford to lead the provincial government and 57% of Albertans felt the same way about Jason Kenney. In addition, 50% of Canadians believed their province would be better off with a different prime minister in Ottawa, and only 38% disagreed with this statement about the capabilities of Justin Trudeau.
Six months and one pandemic later, the numbers are different for the prime minister and some premiers, but the zeal for a landlocked, sovereign Alberta has dwindled considerably.
Across the country, 38% of Canadians think their province would be better off with a different prime minister in Ottawa, 12 points lower than last year. There is still a gender gap on this issue, with more men wishing for a different head of government than women (42% to 34%).
In three of the four most populous provinces, the numbers for Trudeau improved markedly since December 2019. While last year 53% of British Columbians preferred someone else in Ottawa, the proportion has fallen to 37%. Animosity toward the prime minister also fell in Ontario (to 35% from 51%) and Alberta (to 54% from 65%). Quebec’s numbers are essentially the same (38% in December 2019, 37% now).
Ottawa’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the perception of residents on the federal government. We could assume that all premiers would be the beneficiaries of a similar bump in public affection, but not every area of the country is feeling the same way. The biggest change is observed in Ontario, where the proportion of residents who want someone other than Ford in charge fell by 22 points to 38%. Quebec Premier François Legault and British Columbia Premier John Horgan also posted better numbers, with their unfavourability rating on this question going to 29% from 44% and to 36% from 42%, respectively.
Alberta was immune to the COVID-19 bounce. In December 2019, 57% of Albertans yearned for a different premier than Kenney. This time around, 56% of the province’s residents feel the same way.
Kenney has been unique among Canadians premiers in his ubiquity during pandemic press conferences, his criticism of federal health authorities and his inability to temporarily shelve campaign platitudes. Premiers of all political stripes – a New Democrat in B.C., a Conservative in Ontario and a populist in Quebec – have seen their numbers improve after establishing a positive emotional connection with residents. Kenney has been unable to match them.
As many Albertans question the path of their provincial government, the concept of independence is losing its lustre. In this latest survey, 28% of Albertans believe that their province would be better off as its own country. This represents a 12-point drop from the numbers registered in December 2019, just weeks removed from an election where the federal Conservatives got more votes but won fewer seats than the Liberal Party of Canada. Separatist feelings also fell slightly in Quebec, dropping to 36% from 40% last year this time around.
Albertans are starting to look at governments in a different light. The past six months have brought recovery for the prime minister and stagnation for the premier. Hatred toward Ottawa has indubitably subsided. We will have to wait longer to see if the ludicrous idea of Alberta’s secession becomes a welcome side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. •
Mario Canseco is the president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted on May 26 and May 27 among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
One new COVID-19 case announced Monday – HalifaxToday.ca
As of today, June 1, Nova Scotia has 1,057 confirmed cases of COVID-19. One new case was identified Sunday, May 31.
The QEII Health Sciences Centre’s microbiology lab completed 626 Nova Scotia tests on May 31 and is operating 24-hours.
There is one licensed long-term care home in Nova Scotia with active cases of COVID-19. Northwood in Halifax currently has 10 residents and four staff active cases.
The list of symptoms being screened for has recently expanded. If you have any one of the following symptoms, visit https://811.novascotia.ca to determine if you should call 811 for further assessment:
— fever (i.e. chills, sweats)
— cough or worsening of a previous cough
— sore throat
— shortness of breath
— muscle aches
— nasal congestion/runny nose
— hoarse voice
— unusual fatigue
— loss of sense of smell or taste
— red, purple or blueish lesions on the feet, toes or fingers without clear cause
To date, Nova Scotia has 42,426 negative test results, 1,057 positive COVID-19 test results and 60 deaths. Confirmed cases range in age from under 10 to over 90. Six individuals are currently in hospital, two of those in ICU. Nine-hundred and eighty-four individuals have now recovered and their cases of COVID-19 are considered resolved. Cases have been identified in all parts of the province. A map and graphic presentation of the case data is available at https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/data .
Public health is working to identify and test people who may have come in close contact with the confirmed cases. Those individuals who have been confirmed are being directed to self-isolate at home, away from the public, for 14 days.
Anyone who has travelled outside Nova Scotia must self-isolate for 14 days. As always, any Nova Scotian who develops symptoms of acute respiratory illness should limit their contact with others until they feel better.
It remains important for Nova Scotians to strictly adhere to the public health order and directives – practise good hand washing and other hygiene steps, maintain a physical distance of two metres or six feet from those not in your household or family household bubble and limit planned gatherings of people outside your household or family household bubble to no more than 10.
Nova Scotians can find accurate, up-to-date information, handwashing posters and fact sheets at https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus .
Businesses and other organizations can find information to help them safely reopen at https://novascotia.ca/reopening-nova-scotia/ .
— testing numbers are updated daily at https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus
— a state of emergency was declared under the Emergency Management Act on March 22 and extended to June 14
Government of Canada: https://canada.ca/coronavirus
Government of Canada toll-free information line 1-833-784-4397
The Mental Health Provincial Crisis Line is available 24/7 to anyone experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis, or someone concerned about them, by calling 1-888-429-8167 (toll-free)
Kids Help Phone is available 24/7, by calling 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free)
For help or information about domestic violence 24/7, call 1-855-225-0220 (toll-free)
NB health authority CEO says COVID-19 outbreak is 'worst possible scenario' – OHS Canada
By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s, N.L. with files from Jillian Kestler-D’Amours in Montreal
FREDERICTON — The chief executive of a New Brunswick health network says the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the north of the province is a worst-case scenario in a region with underlying health issues and an older population.
Testing for the novel coronavirus has been ramped up in the Campbellton area, with two arenas becoming makeshift testing centres after officials confirmed a health-care professional travelled to Quebec and returned to work without self-isolating.
The worker has tested positive for COVID-19, and he has been linked to a growing cluster of cases.
Eight cases have been linked to the cluster that as of Friday has led to the adjournment of the provincial legislature, the rollback of reopening measures and prompted the opening of a testing centre across the border in Quebec.
Gilles Lanteigne, president and CEO of the Vitalite Health Network, said the incident that sparked the “massive” testing operation speaks to the importance of abiding by public health measures that have been introduced to slow the spread of the virus.
“We were expecting we would have a fallback at some time or another. Did we expect that? This is probably the worst scenario we could have had,” Lanteigne said by phone on Friday.
Until the latest outbreak, New Brunswick had been loosening restrictions, with nearly all of its positive COVID-19 cases considered resolved.
Health authorities announced two additional cases Friday, bringing the total in the region known as Zone 5 to eight, with two patients in intensive care.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said one of the newly diagnosed individuals is a health-care worker in their 30s who works in a nursing home, where patients and staff were being tested Friday. The other new case is a person in their 60s.
She warned all New Brunswickers to be cautious, saying contract tracing has found that people living outside the northern region are within the transmission circle. She said the quickly emerging cluster, which is expected to grow, shows that people will be living with the pandemic for a long time.
Lanteigne said wide testing is essential in the region because Campbellton is known to have high rates of chronic health conditions and smoking, putting the population at greater risk of complications from COVID-19.
“It’s a very vulnerable population,” he said. “We need to know where this virus is at in the community. We’re very, very concerned.”
Lanteigne confirmed the health-care professional thought to be patient zero in the outbreak has been suspended from work indefinitely after coming into contact with more than 100 people.
He declined to confirm the man’s professional title, citing privacy concerns in the small community, but said he worked directly with patients at the Campbellton Regional Hospital.
More than 200 people were tested Thursday evening, and Lanteigne said the health authority is on track to exceed its target of 500 tests over the weekend.
Elective surgeries have been suspended, and ambulances are being diverted to another hospital. Zone 5 has been moved back to the “orange” phase of the province’s reopening plan, with previous restrictions reinstated.
“We’re treating this zone as a hot zone,” Lanteigne said.
Health worker criticized
Campbellton is on the Quebec border, and some residents have complained about restrictions that have limited travel between the two provinces.
Across the river from Campbellton, the health authority in Quebec’s Gaspe region is also setting up a COVID-19 testing unit in Pointe-a-la-Croix.
CISSS Gaspesie spokesperson Clemence Beaulieu-Gendron said the health authority believes some residents of Pointe-a-la-Croix were in contact with the New Brunswick health professional who tested positive for COVID-19, but it is unclear how many.
She said there are currently no active COVID-19 cases in Pointe-a-la-Croix.
Lanteigne remarked that the incident should be a wake-up call for community members who, despite “warnings and warnings,” were reluctant to wear masks and were demanding that travel restrictions be loosened.
“Now, here we are. One incident. This is what we’ve been saying all along,” Lanteigne said.
Premier Blaine Higgs has criticized the worker at the centre of the cluster as “irresponsible.” He said this week that information had been passed to the RCMP and suggested the individual could be charged with violating public health orders.
Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, spokeswoman for the New Brunswick RCMP, confirmed Friday that the force “is aware of incident and is looking into the matter.” She would not give details about what potential violations were being considered.
At Friday’s COVID-19 briefing, Higgs softened his tone slightly, saying any professional or legal consequences will be dealt with by the person’s employer and law enforcement.
“I know people are upset, but we don’t want anyone taking matters into their own hands,” he said, adding that people with symptoms should not be afraid to come forward and seek testing.
Russell also avoided sharing specifics about the health-care worker’s job title and declined to say whether the nursing home employee had been working in other facilities.
Higgs said the travel incident is being investigated to determine what was said at the border and whether the rules were followed.
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