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New Covid-19 app could prevent hospital admissions and save lives

02 September 2020 - 06:00 By mpumzi zuzile
The department of health launches its Covid Alert SA mobile application on Wednesday to strengthen contact tracing efforts.
The department of health launches its Covid Alert SA mobile application on Wednesday to strengthen contact tracing efforts.
Image: 123RF/KANTVER

The national health department will on Wednesday launch a life-saving mobile application, Covid Alert SA, to strengthen South Africa’s digital contact tracing efforts.

As of Monday night, the country has a cumulative total of 627,041 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 540,823 recoveries and 14,192 deaths.

It is estimated that if 100 infections were reported using the app it could prevent as many as 15 to 20 hospital admissions and save two lives.

Gaurang Tanna, who led the app development team within the department, said: “This is a crucial public health intervention to help us suppress Covid-19 and prevent resurgence. It works best when many people download the app. We request everyone to download the app, and those confirmed positive to report their diagnosis so that their contacts can be notified.”

Tanna said the app is designed to reduce the impact on the health system and save lives, while preserving privacy at scale.

Transnet's Phelophepa health-care train has made its way to Gauteng for the first time in its 26 years of operation due to the spike of Covid-19 cases in the province. The train, which brings health-care to the doorsteps of vulnerable communities, had previously travelled to every province in South Africa except Gauteng.

“For every 100 infections we are able to prevent using this technology, we could prevent as many as 15 to 20 hospital admissions and save two lives,” he said. 

Health spokesperson Popo Maja said the department has to date deployed teams to conduct manual contact tracing in every district. He said the Covid Alert SA app will complement and strengthen these existing methods, as a tool to enable the instant notification of contacts following a positive test.

Covid Alert SA is built on the exposure notification Application Programming Interface (API) developed by Apple and Google to enable contact tracing through mobile phones.

Maja said the app will be fully privacy-preserving, in line with the requirements of the API, and does not collect any personally identifiable information or trace a user’s location.

“When a user tests positive, they are requested to report their diagnosis anonymously in the Covid Alert SA app. When the user does so, all other users with whom they have been in contact for the past 14 days will immediately be notified of their exposure and prompted through the care pathway,” he said.

At no point in this process will the identity of any user revealed, added Maja.

Director-general of health Dr Sandile Buthelezi said: “Global experience has demonstrated the risk of resurgence once restrictions on social and economic activity are lifted. While the trajectory of the epidemic in South Africa has stabilised, such resurgence remains a real and present danger in our own country.”

The Covid Alert SA app will be launched and available for download on Wednesday.

- TimesLIVE


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