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COVID-19 alert app notches up 1m downloads

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Government-endorsed coronavirus app COVID Alert SA has been downloaded by a million South Africans, president Cyril Ramaphosa revealed during his address to the nation on Thursday evening.

This, after he last month urged citizens to download the app, appealing to all organisations to encourage staff and visitors to download it when they enter offices, shops, schools, universities and other enclosed spaces.

Ramaphosa listed the app among some of the protection measures to contain the virus, saying it is encouraging that COVID Alert SA is being downloaded.

“We can also protect ourselves by downloading the COVID Alert SA mobile app that can notify us if we are exposed to the virus and thereby help to break the chain of transmission.”

He went on to state: “If there is anything this pandemic has taught us, it is the danger of becoming complacent.

“Across the world, countries with declining infections have eased restrictions only to experience a second, even more severe wave, forcing them to re-impose restrictions on movement, gatherings and economic activity. If there was ever a time for caution, it is now.”

Introduced by the national Department of Health, SA’s COVID-19 alert app was built using Apple and Google’s contact-tracing technology.

In April, the rival tech giants announced a joint venture to enable the use of advanced Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the deadly virus, with user privacy and security central to the design. The app is said not to use GPS tracking.

The app alerts people if they have been exposed to persons that have tested positive for the coronavirus in the last 14 days. Using Bluetooth technology, it exchanges a random code with other users of the app. This happens when their smartphones are within two metres of each other for more than 15 minutes. The identity and location of the users are not required for the exchange to happen, in order to protect their privacy.

Once users have downloaded and installed the app, it runs in the background. Bluetooth and notifications must be enabled for the app to work and users need to have access to a mobile or WiFi network to send and receive exposure alerts.

If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they can use the app to notify all other users that they have been in contact with during the past 14 days. All phones that have exchanged codes will receive an alert with instructions on what to do next.

The app is available for Android and iOS-powered smartphones.

COVID hotspots

Since the first COVID-19 case recorded in March, a total of 800 872 people are confirmed to have been infected by the virus in the country, with around 92% of these people having recovered. A further 21 803 people have succumbed to the virus, to date.

During the address, Ramaphosa expressed concern over the spike in new infections and an increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital.

On Wednesday, the country recorded the over 4 400 new infections, the largest daily increase in infections since the middle of August.

The president indicated there are three areas of the country that account for most of the new infections, namely Nelson Mandela Bay and the Sarah Baartman District in the Eastern Cape and the Garden Route District in the Western Cape.

Cabinet declared Nelson Mandela Bay, as one of the areas showing a surge in new infections, as a coronavirus hotspot.

Therefore, in addition to the existing alert level one regulations, additional restrictions will apply in the area, which are:

  • The hours of the curfew will be from 22:00 and 4:00, meaning that – except for emergencies – no person may be outside their place of residence between those times. This does not apply to essential workers who are permitted to work during those hours.
  • The sale of alcohol from retail outlets will only be permitted between 10:00 and 18:00 from Monday to Thursday.
  • Alcohol consumption in public spaces, such as beaches and parks, is strictly forbidden. This is necessary to prevent large social gatherings.
  • Gatherings, including religious gatherings, may not be attended by more than 100 people for indoor events and 250 for outdoor events. At all times, the total number of people in a venue may not exceed more than 50% of the capacity of the venue.
  • All post-funeral gatherings are prohibited.

“These additional measures are necessary to contain the resurgence in Nelson Mandela Bay, to prevent outbreaks resulting from social gatherings and to protect the capacity of the healthcare system to provide care to those who need it.

“In determining these restrictions, we have sought to take those steps which are absolutely necessary to save lives while limiting disruptions to the economy,” Ramaphosa stated.

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