Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning to resume regular briefings similar to those he held early in the pandemic after a plea he made to Canadians during his national address led to a significant bump in the number of downloads of the COVID Alert app.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), COVID Alert had been downloaded 2.75 million times by last Tuesday, the day before the throne speech, which Trudeau followed with a national address that was broadcasted by each of the country’s major television networks.
During Trudeau’s address — which critics said failed to focus on the severity of the second wave of COVID-19 in favour of highlighting the government’s just-revealed agenda — the prime minister drew attention to the notification cellphone app, while talking about how Canada can contain the pandemic.
“In the spring, we all did our part by staying home,” Trudeau said. “And this fall, we have even more tools in the toolbox. People are wearing masks. That’s critical. So keep it up.
“We’ve got the COVID Alert app. Take the teacher who felt fine, but she gets a positive (test result) after the app warned her she’d been exposed. COVID Alert meant she went home instead of the classroom.
“It’s a powerful, free tool that’s easy to use and protects your privacy,” he continued. “So if you haven’t already, download it off the App Store or Google Play. It’s one more way to keep ourselves and others safe.”
Searches of “COVID Alert” spiked on Google immediately after the prime minister’s address. Google Play statistics provided to iPolitics by the PMO show that downloads of COVID Alert also soared immediately after the prime minister’s address.
Between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. last Wednesday, about 15,000 people downloaded COVID Alert onto Android phones alone.
Higher-than-usual download rates continued throughout the evening, as well.
From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., it was downloaded close to 8,000 times on Androids, and between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., it was downloaded about 5,000 times.
By Friday, the app had been downloaded 2.91 million times.
Responding to the bump in downloads, which the government hopes to replicate to counter the spike in COVID-19 cases, specially in Ontario and Quebec, Trudeau will resume the semi-regular updates he made from Rideau Cottage in the pandemic’s early days.
With the House of Commons sitting again, Trudeau likely won’t hold the briefings outside his home, a senior source in the PMO told iPolitics. While a schedule hasn’t been set in stone, the PMO envisions Trudeau resuming regular briefings “at the very least” once per week.
Federal officials have been tirelessly trying to convince Canadians to download the COVID Alert app since it was released at the end of July.
COVID Alert does not force users to surrender any personal information and doesn’t track users’ locations.
It relies on Bluetooth technology to exchange randomized codes with other phones that users are close to. Although the app is available across Canada, to function, it relies on users inputting single-use key codes when they test positive for COVID-19. That way, their phone automatically alerts anyone they encountered to the possibility of exposure to COVID-19.
Provincial health authorities are responsible for delivering codes to people who test positive for the coronavirus. So far, only users in Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are able to report a diagnosis in the app.
Quebec’s government has spent weeks very publicly rejecting COVID Alert, insisting it wants a made-in-Quebec application instead. That stance shifted on Monday.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said Quebec would likely adopt COVID Alert in “a matter of days.”
Speaking to reporters again on Tuesday, Dubé said his Ontario counterpart told him she was “not totally satisfied” with how many people were using (or not using) the app.
While Dubé said his government plans to talk to opposition parties about beginning to use the app, he said, “The straight answer is: Yes, we will have the application.”
Quebec Premier François Legault also said the province will launch an advertising campaign to encourage people to download COVID Alert.
With files from Kevin Dougherty and Janet Silver.