Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended his government’s decision to invest $2.5 million in wearable contact tracing technology that will beep or buzz to notify users if they are too close to another person, saying that the deal should yield a “good return on investment.”
Last week, the Progressive Conservative government issued a news release saying that it will be providing money from the Ontario Together Fund to a technology company in order to create wearable tracing technology for people who work or spend time in facilities where the COVID Alert app can’t be accessed.
The bracelet, called TraceSCAN, would be used in places such as airlines, schools, construction sites and long-term care homes.
The province said that the technology will be able to track COVID-19 exposure without using GPS.
“If anyone in the working premises reports COVID-19 positive, HR or health and safety officials can log in to the online reporting dashboard and see who they have been in contact with and their risk level, then send an exposure notification,” the release said.
The device will also either beep or vibrate at users who are less than six feet apart.
Following the announcement, a number of people took to social media to question whether investing in wearable technology was the best use for the government’s money.
Users on Twitter mentioned that most people already know they should be staying six feet away from one another, and have downloaded the COVID Alert App to aide in contact tracing and notification of potential exposure.
This is a tremendous waste of money. How about testing & tracing. Increasing funding to public health? “Ontario investing $2.5M in wearable tracing tech that will beep or vibrate if people aren’t six feet apart” #onpoli #FordfailedOntario https://t.co/hxhxKI2S9z— Leslie Maggie (@LeslieMaggie) February 21, 2021
“This is such a waste of money,” another person said on Twitter. “People already know what six feet apart is, they just don’t care. Put that money into LTC's , schools or paid sick leave, we go a lot further than this tech nobody wants.”
One Twitter user said the technology would “create a stigma and toxic environment” while another said that as a teacher, their classroom “would not get much accomplished” with the constant beeping or buzzing.
Individuals who identify themselves as educators said on Twitter that it would be impossible to use the technology in schools as kids are either constantly walking past other students in the hallway or some classrooms may not be able to keep desks exactly six-feet away from one another.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, an advocacy group that represents 45,000 teachers in Ontario’s publicly funded English Catholic schools, also expressed an opinion on Twitter, saying that “no one asked for (the bracelets).”
For some reason, the Ford government has chosen to invest $ in beeping bracelets instead of #PaidSickDays, smaller classes for physical distancing, etc. ��Pretty sure no one asked for this. https://t.co/Y67FQEOTXd— Catholic Teachers (@OECTAProv) February 22, 2021
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Ford defended his government’s decision to invest money into the technology.
“We look deep into anything that we invest in attracting jobs and I think so far, over the last two years two and a half years, anything that was invested has created a tremendous amount of jobs,” the premier said when asked about the bracelets by a reporter.
“We always look at risk on any investment that we do and the return on investment, and they came back and said ‘here’s a good return on investment.’ You just don't look you know where you are in a couple of weeks, you have to look at the long-term investment and we felt like it was a good investment, so we moved forward on it.”
Similarly to the COVID Alert App, the government will not be mandating that people use the technology.
Last week, a spokesperson for Minister of Economic Development Vic Fedeli’s office said that the Ministry’s support of the technology “is intended to help commercialize the product and enter the market,” meaning that it will be up to each individual company or school board to determine if they will purchase the product for use.
The government said that Facedrive Inc., the company responsible for the technology, anticipates manufacturing about 150,000 devices and creating 68 new jobs in Ontario.