Official COVID-19 tracing app launched in South Africa

The Department of Health has launched the COVID-19 Alert SA app, which is a free exposure notification app for Android and iOS.

The app lets people know when they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and it is available to anyone in South Africa who has a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.

The COVID-19 Alert SA app has been built using Apple and Google’s exposure notification framework and is under 3MB in size.

It is part of the COVIDConnect digital support service which launched on 17 July. However, COVIDConnect also offers a separate option that works on any mobile phone – including feature phones.

The app offers news, information, a risk-assessment tool, and COVID-19 test results – which are accessible via either SMS or WhatsApp.

The COVID Alert SA app expands upon this service by offering users the ability to automatically determine if they have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

How it works

COVID-19 Alert SA app, which is available on both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, uses Bluetooth and runs in the background once it is installed.

“The app uses Bluetooth signals to exchange ‘random codes’ (random numbers that change every so often) with other COVID Alert SA app users,” explains the Department of Health.

“This happens when their smartphones are within 2 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.

The server then sends these codes to the other users of the app, and if there is a match, the user who has been in contact with the person who has tested positive for COVID-19 is notified.

Users who receive this notification will also be informed on how to self-quarantine, and how to remain healthy.

Privacy

The Department of Health stresses that the app, which is completely voluntary, keeps users’ information completely safe thanks to its Bluetooth functionality.

“At no stage is the identity and location of the device users required for this exchange to happen,” it explained.

“All that the COVID Alert SA app tracks is the proximity of smartphone devices to one another and how long they are in contact.”

The app does not use the device’s GPS functionality, nor does it track the user’s location.

Users are also not required to ever enter their name, surname, or other identifying details such as the user’s device contacts or health information.

“The app has been built using Apple and Google’s exposure notification framework, where user privacy is at the core of the design,” said the Department of Health.

You can download the app from the following locations:

Now read: How South Africa’s COVIDConnect contact tracing platform protects privacy

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Official COVID-19 tracing app launched in South Africa