Frequently asked questions: COVID Alert SA app
Public health authorities use contact tracing to help control the spread of epidemics and pandemics. The process involves healthcare workers identifying and interviewing people who have contracted a disease to identify their close contacts so that they can quarantine quickly and prevent further spread of infection.
- Close contacts can be guided to self-quarantine to prevent further spread, monitor themselves for symptoms and seek medical care when needed.
- Many people who contract COVID‑19 have no symptoms (are asymptomatic) or experience very mild illness. They could therefore unknowingly spread it to others. COVID-19 is especially dangerous for those considered at high risk of severe illness like people who have chronic illnesses or the elderly.
Contact tracing is a time-consuming process as it requires many public healthcare experts to interview each person who has contracted COVID‑19 and establish a list of close contacts stretching back 14 days. The person being interviewed needs to remember who they interacted with and know their contact details, which is not possible for people they came into contact in public places such as the grocery store or public transport.
Since the start of the pandemic (in 2020), Bluetooth-based contact-tracing apps are being deployed in multiple countries.
Many of these apps are built on Apple and Google’s exposure notification framework which aims to help governments; health agencies and non-governmental organisations curb the spread of COVID‑19 by using the Bluetooth technology available on mobile devices and also preserves privacy because it detects your proximity to others and not your actual location.
Bluetooth wireless technology allows Bluetooth-enabled devices to connect each other (such as our smartphones to our cars, or to fitness devices, wireless speakers, etc.)
Yes. In South Africa, the National Department of Health has developed the COVID Alert SA app, which is built using the Apple–Google Exposure Notification application programmable interface (API). The app falls under – the South African government’s COVID‑19 digital support service.
Understanding the COVID Alert SA app
COVID Alert SA is South Africa’s official COVID-19 exposure notification system and has been available for free to all South Africans on both the Android and iOS mobile operating platforms. The system was developed by the National Department of Health with the support of Discovery Health, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when contact tracing was a critical feature of the pandemic response.
The system provides the following benefits:
- Understand COVID 19 exposure risk through rapid notification of potential exposure to other users who have tested positive for COVID 19 without revealing identity to them
- Early self-quarantine to help 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 families and communities 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)
- Contribute to avoiding a resurgence of COVID‑19 in South Africa, protecting South Africa’s healthcare services and vulnerable people, and ending the pandemic
By downloading and using the COVID Alert SA app, you become a part of a powerful digital network of app users who choose to work together for the benefit of everyone in the app community while all enjoying complete privacy and anonymity.
As a COVID Alert SA app user you:
- Understand your COVID‑19 exposure risk. When app users with whom you have had recent close contact anonymously report that a test has shown they have COVID‑19 (to the app), you soon receive an exposure notification alert so that you know you’ve had contact with someone who has COVID‑19.
- Are guided as to the next steps you should take. People who have been potentially exposed to COVID‑19 are encouraged to self-quarantine and; therefore, help to curb the further spread of the virus.
- 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.
Covid Alert SA upgraded to the Exposure Notification Express (ENX)
- Option 1 (if you have not downloaded and installed the COVID SA app previously):
Once the system is live, Android owners with devices that are compatible with ENX (Android 6.0 and later) will receive a push notification to activate the new version of COVID Alert SA. Should users not receive the push notification or dismiss accidently, they can access it directly on settings > Google services > COVID-19 notifications > select region > select South Africa > click on continue > follow activation journey.
- Option 2 (if you have already downloaded and installed the previous version of COVID Alert SA):
Delete the existing COVID Alert SA app on your device and follow the steps highlighted in Option 1.
Alternatively, you can navigate to the Google Play Store and upgrade the existing COVID Alert SA app on your device. Once downloaded and the upgrade is installed, you can open the app and follow the onboarding instructions as specified.
- Option 1 (if you have not downloaded and installed the COVID Alert SA app previously):
Once the system is live, iPhone users with devices that are compatible with ENX (iOS 13 and later) will receive a push notification to activate the new version of COVID Alert SA. Should users not receive the push notification or dismiss the notification accidently, they can access it directly on settings > exposure notifications > select turn on exposure notifications > follow the activation journey from here onwards.
- Option 2 (if you have already downloaded and installed the previous version of COVID Alert SA):
If you already have COVID Alert SA installed on your device, perform the following steps on your device to activate the latest version of COVID Alert SA.
1. Delete the current version of COVID Alert SA.
2. Open the settings app on your iOS device.
3. Scroll down and tap on the “Exposure Notifications” menu item.
4. Tap on “Turn on Exposure Notifications” and then tap “Continue”.
5. Review the terms and conditions and select “Agree”
6. The system will then prompt you turn on Exposure Notifications, tap “Turn on”.
7. You will receive a confirm screen, tap “Done” to continue.
The Exposure Notifications express upgrade is available at no additional cost.
Android devices with Android version 6.0 and later.
iOS devices with iOS 13 and later.
The system is currently unavailable on Huawei HMS devices.
Receiving an exposure alert via the COVID Alert SA app
When you open the app, you see NO EXPOSURES FOUND and a green radar screen.
If you receive a notification, it means that someone that was near you has tested positive for COVID-19. The notification will guide you to take action to protect yourself and those around you, like getting tested, seeking medical attention, etc. Visit – www.sacoronavirus.co.za or https://www.nicd.ac.za/ – for specific guidance.
Once you enable Exposure Notifications, the system will continuously run in the background to scan for other phones with Exposure Notifications enabled that you are near. If someone you were near later tests positive for COVID-19 and they report their test result on Covid Alert SA, you may be alerted about a potential exposure without the system needing to know your identity or the identities of other people who may have been nearby at the same time.
The Exposure Notification System uses your phone’s Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signal strength to determine proximity to other phones. There are many factors that can affect BLE signal strength, but generally the closer that two phones are to each other, the stronger the signal strength between the two.
There are different reasons why you may not receive an Exposure Notification. To start, the person who tested positive needs to be an Exposure Notification user and choose to upload their positive diagnosis.
In addition, the system determines whether you receive a notification based on how close and long you were near another Exposure Notification user. The system provides multiple levels of exposure classifications based on attenuation strength and the time length to which you were exposed.
People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Thus, the Covid Alert SA asks for this so that we can estimate to what degree another individual was exposed.
If you are uncomfortable in sharing this data, unclear on when your symptoms began, or asymptomatic; you can choose to skip this question.
Reporting that I have tested positive for COVID-19 to the COVID Alert SA app
Yes. It is up to each user to report their diagnosis voluntarily. Remember that your identity is not revealed to other users who receive the notification. Your close contact will not be provided any detail other than the date of contact, so they know how many days they would need to quarantine.
By going to “Alert Others”, you will be able to select “Alert others of close contact”. You will remain anonymous. You will be asked to enter the unique personal identification number (PIN) the National Department of Health sent you along with your COVID‑19 test result, as well as your date of birth – these details are required to safeguard your unique PIN and to make sure your test result is valid.
You will then be asked to share your device’s random codes from the past 14 days to initiate the process of notifying others app users that they have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 and that they may have been exposed to COVID‑19 as a result.
You will finally be directed to a “Diagnosis shared” screen. You will also be asked to assist the National Department of Health by going to the COVID Alert SA WhatsApp tool to help to identify people you have been in contact with over the past 14 days. You will receive instructions as to what to do next.
You will be guided to self-isolate, to monitor your symptoms and to seek medical care if symptoms start or get worse.
The COVID Alert SA app, Apple and Google will not receive identifying information about you or your location data, or information about any other devices you have been close to.
You will only ever be asked to enter personal details into the app if you lose the unique PIN the National Department of Health sent you with your positive COVID‑19 test result and attempt to retrieve it. This functionality will only be available in future versions of the COVID Alert SA app.
Permissions and Privacy
COVID Alert SA puts user privacy at the forefront of its exposure notification technology’s design and has established strict guidelines to make sure that privacy is safeguarded in line with the best practice international security standards.
- No, at no point are your personal details revealed to other users.
- This technology only works if you decide to opt-in. If you change your mind, you can turn it off at any time.
- The Exposure Notifications System does not collect or use the location from your device. It uses Bluetooth, which can be used to detect if two devices are near each other — without revealing where the devices are.
- All the Exposure Notification matching happens on your device. The system does not share your identity with other users, Apple, or Google when you upload a positive diagnosis.
- If you test positive and choose to notify other users that you have been infected, the system will ask you to enter a cell phone number so that a self-reporting pin can be sent to you to mark yourself positive on the app. You can only mark yourself possible once every 90 days. The app will not be able to mark you positive for at least another 90 days.
All the requisite POPI and POPIA protections remain in place, and all personal information is protected with no tracking of individual movements or identification of individuals to other users.
Accessing technical support
Should you encounter any technical issues or require assistance, you may send the technical team a message using the form below
nb: this form is only for queries related to the COVID Alert App.