Sunday, October 25, 2020

Health Department and world -class developers launch Covid-19 contact tracing app


In partnership with world-class developers at Discovery Health, Apple and Google, The Health Department has launched a new Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing app to strengthen South Africa’s digital contact tracing efforts. Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing apps allow a greater number of contacts to be traced more rapidly, including strangers whom an index case may not be able to recall or identify.

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. It has passed legal muster for implementation through consultation with Justice Catherine O’Regan, the Covid-19 designated judge.

This App does not collect any personally identifiable information or track a user’s location. It uses Bluetooth to release a randomly generated code that is picked by other users when two phones come into proximity of one another. This unique identifier changes frequently and cannot be linked to the identity of any user. Over time, each user builds an “encounter history” of those they have been in contact with.

“The Covid Alert SA app is based on privacy-protecting technology to alert users when they have been in close contact with someone who has since tested positive for Covid-19. The more people that download it, the better it will work. Learning how to keep everyone safe from Covid-19 is one of the challenges the world faces. I hope that the new Covid Alert app will make a contribution to doing so,” said O’Regan.

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.

“This technology allows us to effectively break the chain of transmission by dramatically reducing the time between exposure and knowing one has been exposed so that one can take action by self-quarantining and testing when necessary,” said Dr Sandile Buthelezi the department’s director-general.

The news app was developed at no cost to the department, through a partnership with world-class developers at Discovery Health, Apple and Google. Additionally, the department also expressed appreciation to its partners for their contribution, including the Banking Association of South Africa and its members, as well as mobile networks Cell C, Telkom, MTN and Vodacom.

Gaurang Tanna, who led the app development team within the department, said it is a crucial public health intervention to help suppress Covid-19 and prevent resurgence.“The app is designed to reduce the impact on the health system and save lives while preserving privacy at scale. For every 100 infections, we are able to prevent using this technology, we could prevent as many as 15-20 hospital admissions,” said Tanna.

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