Govt app looks to prevent second wave of COVID-19 infections

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The Department of Health has unveiled its COVID-19 app, which it says will aid government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus and prevent a second wave of infections.

This follows president Cyril Ramaphosa’s promise that government would enhance digital tracing tools in its efforts to track and fight the spread of COVID-19.

Dubbed the COVID Alert SA, the app has been built using Apple and Google’s contact-tracing technology.

In April, the rival tech giants announced a joint venture to enable the use of technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the deadly virus, with user privacy and security central to the design.

Described by Apple and Google as “conventional”, the API-based contact-tracing system is designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus by tracking who a person has been in close contact with, enabling public health officials to contact, test, treat and advise people who may have been exposed to an affected person.

The contact-tracing technology consists of APIs and an operating system that enables interoperability between Android and iOS devices, using apps from public health authorities.

Yesterday, the South African government confirmed a total number of 630 595 cases, with the total number of deaths at 14 389 and 553 456 recoveries.

Speaking about the new app, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says: “The Department of Health developed a mobile app called COVID Alert SA, which uses advanced Bluetooth technology developed by Apple and Google to notify you if you have been exposed to the coronavirus.

“Using Bluetooth, the COVID Alert app exchanges a random code with other phones that are close by. If you later test positive for COVID-19, you can use the app to notify all other users that you 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 and how to take care of yourselves if you’ve been exposed."

Dr Kerrigan McCarthy, from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, adds: “The app is designed to protect your privacy and does not track your location or collect any personal information. If you report your diagnosis, you and your contacts will remain completely anonymous.

“When you take a test for coronavirus, you will receive a unique COVID PIN via SMS that you can use anonymously to report your diagnosis in the COVID Alert app. You will also receive a link to the COVIDConnect WhatsApp channel where you can safely share your contacts.

“The more South Africans that download the app and engage with the WhatsApp channel, the more effective we will be in stopping the spread of the virus.”

In a statement, Ramaphosa says all mobile network operators in the country have zero-rated the app to make it possible for all South Africans to benefit from its use.

“I encourage every South African to download this app, which is an important, innovative and necessary part of protecting ourselves, our families, our co-workers and our communities.

“The more South Africans download the app, the more effective it will be in stopping a second wave of COVID-19 infections. But even as we use the app, we must still wear cloth masks, wash or sanitise our hands regularly, maintain social distancing and take all other precautions to keep safe.

“Let’s use COVID Alert South Africa. The power is in our hands.”

The app is available for Android and iOS.

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