Let’s work together to Stay Safe. Join the COVID Alert SA app community and help South Africa to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Contact tracing is a process used to slow the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19. Contact tracing means working with people who contract COVID-19 to identify their ‘close contacts’ – that means people they have been in direct contact with over the past 14 days and possibly infected with COVID 19 as a result. Doing this manually takes time, and there’s always a risk of missing close contacts.
Without the help of technology, finding those people who are close contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID 19 is tough.
COVID Alert SA makes contact tracing happen quickly and efficiently. This app helps us to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 using Bluetooth contact-tracing technology – which simply tracks close contact (proximity) between smartphones, and not the actual location of the smartphones.
How does the COVID Alert SA app work?
When an app user anonymously reports to the app that they have COVID‑19, the COVID Alert SA app sends notifications to those devices that were in close contact with this person’s device. These exposure notifications warn those app users that they could potentially have been exposed to the virus. App users are guided as to what to do next to optimise their wellbeing and prevent the spread of the COVID‑19 virus to others. At no stage does the app reveal the users’ identities. Confidentiality and anonymity are core to the app’s contact-tracing process.
Standard data costs apply when you download the COVID Alert SA app. The app has been developed to keep the download size under 3 MB.
The app is free and does not feature in-app purchases.
Once you have downloaded and installed COVID Alert SA, it runs in the background.
- Bluetooth and notifications must be enabled for the app to work.
- You must have access to a mobile or Wi-Fi network to send and receive exposure alerts.
The app uses Bluetooth signals to exchange ‘random codes’ (random numbers that change every so often) with other COVID Alert SA app users. This happens when their smartphones are within 2 metres of each other for more than 15 minutes. It’s like the devices have given each other a digital handshake. The random codes exchanged at the time of the ‘digital handshake’ are stored in a log on each phone for two weeks.
At no stage is the identity and location of the device users required for this exchange to happen. All that the COVID Alert SA app tracks is the proximity of smartphone devices to one another and how long they are in contact.
When an app user contracts COVID‑19 and a test shows they have the disease, they can anonymously report this information to the app community. Their device then uploads the random codes that the device has on record from the past two weeks to the Exposure Notification Server.
The Server sends these random codes to all of other app users. Each app user’s device runs through these random codes to check for a match between these codes and the codes it has stored in the past 16 days (every time it has come into contact with another device using the COVID Alert SA app). If there is a match, the device notifies the user that there they have potentially been exposed to COVID‑19.
It’s that simple!
When close contact app users receive the exposure notification, they also receive information on what to do next to self-quarantine, and to optimise their health and wellbeing. This all happens in a way that preserves the privacy of every app user at all times.
COVID Alert SA protects your privacy and security at all times
COVID ALERT SA:
- DOES keep app user identities private at all times
- DOES protect app user security at all times
COVID ALERT SA:
- DOES NOT use GPS
- DOES NOT track your location
- DOES NOT ask you for or ever store your name, surname or other identifying details
- DOES NOT require access to contacts on your phone
- DOES NOT require access to your health information
The COVID Alert SA app is the only contact-tracing app approved by the South African government.
What’s in it for you?
As a COVID Alert SA app user you benefit in multiple ways:
- Understand your COVID‑19 exposure risk when you receive an exposure notification alert. That’s how you quickly know you’ve had contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID‑19.
- Are guided as to the next steps you should take. People who have been potentially exposed to COVID‑19 can choose to self-quarantine and; therefore, help to curb the further spread of the virus. COVID Alert SA also guides you to monitor your symptoms and access healthcare if you need it.
- Keep your loved ones and those in your wider community safe from COVID‑19 – particularly those who are considered to be in the high-risk category for severe illness if they contract COVID‑19 (such as those who live with chronic illness, who are immunocompromised, cancer survivors and people older than 60).
- Ultimately contribute to avoiding a resurgence of COVID‑19 in South Africa, protecting South Africa’s healthcare services and vulnerable people, and ending the pandemic.
Contact tracing in South Africa
Keep in mind that the use of contact tracing technologies such as the COVID Alert SA app are one part of our national effort to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Bluetooth contact-tracing technology complements all of the existing processes in place aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in our country.
When used correctly, by as many South African smartphone users as possible, the COVID Alert SA app will help our country to reduce transmission of the disease and to restore the social, psychological and economic impacts caused by widespread lockdown. The technology helps us to move closer to reopening and restoring our economy. Mobile contact-tracing apps like COVID Alert SA also help to slow the spread of infection until vaccines and antiviral treatments become widely available.
THE COVID Alert SA app forms part of ‘COVIDConnect’ – the South African government’s official COVID‑19 digital support service (that launched on 17 July 2020). The COVID Alert SA app can only be downloaded to a smartphone that has Bluetooth and that meets the operating system requirements (Android 6.0 or iOS 13.5 or later versions).
However, the COVIDConnect digital support service also offers a separate option that works on any mobile phone (including feature phones). If you have a feature phone, you can access news and information, a risk-assessment tool and COVID‑19 test results by WhatsApp or SMS. If a test shows that a user has COVID‑19, users are asked to provide further information to identify close contacts. They are, in turn, immediately alerted of their potential exposure to COVID‑19 by SMS and are not told who had a test that showed they have COVID‑19. The system can also geo-locate the nearest quarantine or healthcare facility.
- To access COVIDConnect, add ‘0600123456’ to your phone’s contacts and type ‘hello’ on WhatsApp. If you do not have a smartphone, dial *134*832# and follow the prompts.
- To access your lab results on COVIDConnect add ‘0820468553’ to your phonebook and send ‘Results’ on WhatsApp and follow the prompts.
Both the COVID Alert SA app and COVIDConnect platforms function without infringing on a user’s privacy or data. Confidentiality is preserved at all times. COVIDConnect is for informing close contacts that you remember and for whom you have contact details, while COVID Alert SA will help you inform other app users who came into close contact at public places for whom you do not know contact details. Both COVIDConnect and COVID Alert SA inform close contacts anonymously.
The choice to download the COVID Alert SA app is yours to make. Use of the app is completely voluntary.
Keep in mind that your identity, privacy and security are always protected when using the app. The app has been built using Apple and Google’s exposure notification framework, where user privacy is at the core of the design. Read more on the exposure notification platform built by Apple and Google, or watch a video about it here