How the new Covid Alert SA smartphone app works
The national health department launched a cellphone application on Wednesday to bolster the country's management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Covid Alert SA will be used for digital contact tracing using Bluetooth technology.
It effectively allows mobile phone users to update their Covid-19 statuses and alert each other anonymously if they encounter a positive case.
Everyone in the country with a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone will be able to access the service.
Legal expert Stuart Scott said the app did not collect personal information or track the location of the phone user. “Covid Alert SA is entirely anonymous. The app protects your privacy and security at all times. It does not need or store any of your personal information,” he said.
The app is available for Android and IOS and will soon be made available for Huawei handsets.
Once downloaded the application is zero-rated.
Health department deputy director-general Dr Anban Pillay said the app did not cost the country lot of money to develop as Discovery covered most of the costs. The app is free and available to anyone in SA.
It uses Bluetooth to exchange “random codes” (random numbers that change every so often) with other app users when they come within proximity — as if the devices had given each other a digital handshake. The random codes exchanged at the time of “digital handshaking” are stored in a log on each phone for 14 days.
Gaurang Tanna, who led the app development team in the department, said the launch was a crucial public health intervention to help suppress Covid-19 and prevent a resurgence of infections.
How to set up the app:
- Download the Covid Alert SA app.
- Encourage your friends and family to do the same. The app takes care of the rest.
How to use the app if you test positive for Covid-19:
- You can choose to enter your unique PIN (sent via SMS from the national health department with the test result) and date of birth. The app will provide advice on what to do next to manage one's health and self-isolate.
- The app will ask permission to share random codes stored on the phone with a central server.
- Other smartphones using the Covid Alert SA app check the central server periodically throughout the day. Those devices with random codes on record matching codes shared to the central server by your device, will receive a notification about potential exposure to Covid-19 over the past 14 days.
- The next user will receive advice on what to do next to monitor their symptoms, choose whether to self-quarantine and more.