Without efficient contact tracing and quarantining, testing serves little purpose other than to let the patient know if they’re infected or not, said Madhi.
“When it comes to tracing, we have never been able to reach a target for that strategy to be successful. Around 75% of close contacts need to be traced, and on average, each person has 120 close contacts. We have never come close to those targets.”
Even at the start of the outbreak, in March, when about 10 to 20 people were testing positive each day, contact-tracing goals were not reached.
Now, more than 1,500 cases are being diagnosed daily; on Thursday the department reported 1,866 positive tests, with 1,761 more on Friday.
At the beginning of September, the department launched Covid Alert SA, which it touted as a “powerful new mobile application that would strengthen the country’s digital contact-tracing efforts”.
The idea was that cases would be indexed and contacts notified by the system, and Gaurang Tanna, who led the health department app development team, described it at the time as a “crucial public health intervention” and requested that everyone download it.
The maths behind the app was that every 100 infections that could be prevented using the technology would prevent up to 20 hospital admissions and save two lives.