New Covid-19 tracing app could prevent second surge and save lives
South Africans are urged to download the newly developed Covid Alert SA app to strengthen the country’s contact tracing efforts. Experts say user privacy will be protected.
Your smartphone’s ability to fight the spread of the coronavirus has just been enhanced.
The Health Department launched the Covid-Alert SA app Wednesday morning in a bid to strengthen South Africa’s contact tracing efforts.
South Africa has been using manual contact tracing methods like home visits and phone calls to alert those known to have been exposed to a Covid-19 patient. Covid-Alert SA provides another crucial layer to contact tracing.
The Health Department’s technical lead on the project, Gaurang Tanna says the app will help suppress the virus and prevent a resurgence.
“The benefit is that you are able to notify your non-known contacts. Like people you are in touch with at a supermarket or in a taxi or at the bank. This app allows you to notify these derived contacts who you may not know that you have been exposed through them or they have been exposed to you,” says Tanna.
Tanna admits the app’s reach will be limited as not all South Africans have access to smartphones. But, this app together with the SMS and WhatsApp lines will help, she adds.
Preventing a second wave
Dr Kerrigan McCarthy of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases says the app will go a long way to helping safeguardSouth Africa from the second wave of the pandemic.
“What is a consideration is that many countries are now experiencing a second wave.
What we know is that contact tracing is an integral part of containment of Covid-19.
Contact tracing is far more important as we reach the second wave. As our numbers decline, we can minimise the second wave if we can trace more effectively,” she says.
Developers estimate that if 100 infections are reported using the app, it could save at least two lives and prevent 20 hospital admissions.
Covid Alert SA is built on the exposure notification Application Programming Interface (API) developed jointly by Google and Apple. It uses a mobile phones Bluetooth capability to enable contact tracing.
The app does not compromise the safety or privacy of those who use it. Senior Counsel Stuart Scott advised developers on the privacy and safety requirements.
“There is no GPS location tracking, there is no identification of your phone or your name.
The app does not have access to your emails or your contacts,” he says.
Easy to download
Downloading the app requires three megabytes of data. Thereafter it is zero rated so it will cost nothing to use. It’s available on Google Play and iStore and developers are working on making it available on other platforms soon.
Health ministry Director General Dr Sandile Buthelezi is urging everyone to download the app and ensure their Bluetooth is always enabled.
“We are now at the point where we are putting this product in the hands of South Africans
It’s a time when South Africans must take charge and be part of the solution to help contain the infections and ensure we don’t reach the second surge.” – Health-e News