The Department of Health recently launched an official WhatsApp-based support service for COVID-19 in South Africa, providing South Africans with everything from test results to daily case number updates.
This system also extends to SMS communication, and it is used to facilitate contact tracing after the delivery of test results.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has assured South Africans that this track and trace service will not infringe on people’s privacy or data.
“One of the reasons we delayed to implement the system was to ensure that that it passes the legal muster and adheres to legal prescripts relating to personal information, confidentiality, and individual and data privacy,” Mkhize said.
This contact tracing system requires the volunteering of information by the person who has tested positive for the virus.
If you are informed via WhatsApp and SMS that your test result is positive, you will be asked to send the phone numbers of those you have come into contact with to the Department of Health.
The system then sends notifications to those contacts without disclosing your name.
South Africans are also able to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment through the COVIDConnect WhatsApp portal, allowing them to determine whether they have symptoms or should be tested.
How to do a risk assessment
The first step to completing a risk assessment is to add the official COVIDConnect platform as a contact on WhatsApp.
This can be done by adding the number 060 012 3456 to your phonebook and sending the message “hello” to this number over WhatsApp. The service can also be accessed through the *134*832# USSD menu.
If you are using the service on WhatsApp, COVIDConnect will provide you with a list of options.
Responding to this main menu with the word “Check” will start the HealthCheck risk assessment process, which will help you to determine whether you are at risk of COVID-19 based on your symptoms.
You will need to provide the following information over WhatsApp to begin this process:
- Pre-existing medical conditions
After you have shared this information with the service, you will be asked a series of questions, each of which requires a “Yes” or “No” answer.
These questions are listed below:
- Do you feel very hot or cold? Are you sweating or shivering? When you touch your forehead, does it feel hot?
- Do you have a cough that recently started?
- Do you have a sore throat or pain when swallowing?
- Do you have breathlessness or difficulty breathing, that you’ve noticed recently?
- Have you noticed any recent changes in your ability to taste or smell things?
- Have you been in close contact to someone confirmed to be infected with COVID-19?
Users will be asked to confirm their information and give the National Department of Health permission to contact them if necessary.
After this, users will receive an assessment indicating their risk of having COVID-19.
If the user’s risk is low, the application states they will not need to complete the assessment again for seven days.
“If you start to feel ill or if you come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19 within the next 7 days, please take this risk assessment again,” the HealthCheck service advises users.
Users who are found to be at a higher risk will receive further communication regarding testing procedures and tracing directives.
Receiving test results over WhatsApp
When South Africans take a test for COVID-19, they will be asked to supply their healthcare worker with their correct date of birth, physical address, and cellphone number.
After this, they can use the COVIDConnect service to retrieve their test results.
Users will receive an SMS once their test results are ready, after which they must add the “LetsTalk” contact to their phonebook on 082 046 8553.
They can then send the message “Results” to this number on WhatsApp and follow the prompts to receive their results.
Screenshots of the HealthCheck assessment are shown below.