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SA telcos partner health officials to fight COVID-19

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 25 Mar 2020

SA’s mobile carriers have joined the fight against COVID-19, zero-rating information portals being run by the Department of Health.

The telecommunications companies say the impact of the virus is far-reaching and as such, they have zero-rated the department’s Web site to provide up-to-date, accurate information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vodacom, in partnership with the Department of Health, is sending awareness messages to its customers through this government WhatsApp number: 0600 123 456.

Additionally, Vodacom customers can now get free vital information about the COVID-19 pandemic by visiting the Web site,

Taki Netshitenzhe, Vodacom group chief officer for corporate affairs, says: “Vodacom is committed to working with government and the Department of Health to enable access to reliable, verified information about the COVID-19 pandemic. By zero-rating access to this crucial Web site, we hope our customers will stay informed and up to date as developments happen, helping them to stay safe during this challenging time.”

The telco says no data or airtime is needed to access the official South African COVID-19 Web site.

It says this decision forms part of the Vodacom Group’s promise to form a social contract with its stakeholders to address the challenges that emerging markets like South Africa are contending with during this unprecedented global event.

“We believe that access to reliable, accurate information is essential, and that zero-rating this Web site, as part of our social contract, will go a long way in assisting customers and driving digital inclusion for all,” says Netshitenzhe.

Similarly, MTN has also zero-rated a USSD line (*130*119#) for reporting infections and for other critical information.

MTN says there are two zero-rated Ayoba COVID-19 channels that are already live and are sharing updated news and information.

On Friday, the telco said it is also working with the National Department of Health to raise awareness of its official “Dept of Health Corona” WhatsApp channel.

“The department is calling on South Africans to save the number 060 012 3456 and to message ‘hi’ to receive the latest updates directly from the experts. MTN will be sending messages to its 29 million customers to encourage use of the channel, rather than flooding the already overloaded hotline with calls,” it said.

In a similar fashion, Telkom announced last week that it is supporting the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring greater access to information for South Africans.

Telkom has zero-rated official coronavirus information sites on its network. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases and SA Government Web sites are all accessible to the Telkom subscriber base free of charge.

“We believe the pandemic can be overcome if we work together and ensure that South Africans are empowered with access to accurate information about the virus,” said Mooketsi Mocumi, Telkom spokesperson.