The South African government’s COVID-19 contact tracing initiative, assisted by the COVID-19 Alert SA app, has failed to help the country meet its contact tracing targets.
This is according to Wits University professor Shabir Madhi, who told the Sunday Times that contact tracing has never been successful locally.
Contact tracing is a strategy which aims to slow the spread of COVID-19 in a country by notifying those who have come into contact with somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19.
South Africa’s COIVD-19 Alert SA app aimed to deliver an automatic contact tracing solution using exposure notification frameworks developed by Google and Apple for Android and iOS smartphones.
Madhi, however, said that the implementation of this app was little more than wishful thinking, adding that it is a “false belief that technology is going to save the day”.
“When it comes to tracing, we have never been able to reach a target for that strategy to be successful,” he said.
“Around 75% of close contacts need to be traced and, on average, each person has 120 close contacts. We have never come close to reaching those targets.”
The COVID-19 Alert SA app has been touted as a crucial tool by the government, with international visitors being required to install the application before entering South Africa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has also urged citizens to install the application so they can be notified when they have come into contact with somebody who has since tested positive for COVID-19.
It is important to note that while the COVID-19 Alert SA app has failed to succeed in meeting contact tracing targets, it remains a useful tool for determining whether you may have been exposed to the virus.
How it works
The COVID-19 Alert SA app, which was launched earlier this year, uses Bluetooth and runs in the background once it is installed.
The app uses Bluetooth signals to exchange random codes with other COVID Alert SA app users. This happens when their smartphones are within two metres of each other for more than 15 minutes.
The codes that are exchanged are then stored in a log on each phone for two weeks.
When an app user tests positive for COVID-19, they can report this information on the app anonymously.
Their device then uploads all of the random codes that it has on record for the past two weeks to the exposure notification server, which then sends these codes to the other users of the app.
If there is a match, the user who has been in contact with the person who tested positive for COVID-19 is notified.
The application remains completely voluntary and keeps users’ information completely secure thanks to its Bluetooth functionality.
The identity and location of device users is never exchanged, as all the application does is track the proximity of devices and the length of time they are in contact with each other.
The app does not use the device’s GPS functionality, nor does it track the user’s location.