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Ontario announces $2.5 million investment in wearable contact tracing device

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The Ontario government is investing $2.5 million in an Ontario-made wearable contact tracing device that will alert users if they’ve been near someone with COVID-19.

The funds will be provided to Facedrive Inc. through the Ontario Together Fund to accelerate the deployment of its wearable contact tracing app, TraceSCAN, according to a Feb. 18 news release.

The company anticipates manufacturing about 150,000 devices under the project and creating 68 new jobs, including software, firmware and hardware engineers and machine learning specialists.

The government launched the $50 million Ontario Together Fund last year to help businesses retool their operations to produce PPE and develop technology-driven solutions and services for businesses to reopen safely.

Although the Ontario government doesn’t mention privacy policies or potential concerns in its news release, it says TraceSCAN technology is designed to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 for workplaces and settings where smartphone use is limited or prohibited, such as airlines, schools, construction sites, and long-term care homes. The device is meant to be a supplementary piece to the COVID Alert app launched last year.

Facedrive Health, a division of Facedrive Inc., has been working with the University of Waterloo on TraceSCAN since May 2020. TraceSCAN has already been deployed in multiple pilot projects, leading to the successful adoption of the technology in real-world settings. Some of the businesses and organizations using TraceSCAN include Air Canada, LiUNA and Waywayseecappo First Nation.

Not everyone, however, is happy about the news. Privacy expert and the executive director of the Global Privacy and Security by Design Centre, Ann Cavoukian, expressed her frustration shortly after the announcement.

Appalling! Throwing money away to track you and disable your privacy: Ontario investing $2.5M in wearable tracing tech that will beep or vibrate if people aren’t 6 feet apart https://t.co/TNSbkwtimQ

— Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D. (@AnnCavoukian) February 19, 2021

“Appalling! Throwing money away to track you and disable your privacy: Ontario investing $2.5M in wearable tracing tech that will beep or vibrate if people aren’t 6 feet apart,” Cavoukian noted in a tweet. 

Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, said new contact tracing technologies will help protect essential workers until the province receives a “sufficient number of vaccines.”

“My door is always open to new and innovative solutions to help keep workers safe during COVID-19,” he said.

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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