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South Africa, it's time to download the COVID-19 track and trace app

(Image credit: Shutterstock / ImYanis)

The South African government launched the COVID Alert SA in September 2020  to help alert citizens find out whether they've come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. 

While it took a while to be released, the government has since made a big push to have the entire country download the app, as it is almost ineffective if only the minority get on board. 

A few months after it was released, the app has gained traction but is not nearly at the golden 57 million mark. However, those with the app have noticed a considerable uptick in alerts as the second wave crashes over the country. 

Since the entire process if voluntary, it relies heavily on public commitment and belief in its safety, security and effectiveness. Since knowledge is power, here is how the app works and why you should download it. 

How it works

App users have to report their COVID-19 status on the app. Although this is anonymous, the app will then send out a notification to all devices that have been in close contact with the person's device. 

This exposure notice doesn't identify the person, but rather advises them what to do next to make sure they are well and that they don't spread the virus to others. 

The app uses Bluetooth to track devices. It tracks 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. 

The government describes this as a "digital handshake". They assure users it doesn't use GPS, location tracking or information access. 

Download the app here on Android and iOS.

Why you should download it

Like we said the app is only effective if everyone has it as it needs to ping and recognise specific Bluetooth signals to identify who is around. If you test positive but don't have the app, you're basically a ghost to the system and then those who interacted with you could be spreading the virus unawares. 

Much like the rest of the measures to prevent the spread, the concern whether you should download the app or not comes to whether you're more community or self-minded. Downloading the app contributes to a community focus and helps protect those around you, even if you do not become particularly sick. 

On the other hand, not downloading the app because of possible and unfounded fears of being watched by the government, places you in a more self-centred focus as the only person who benefits from this supposed protection is yourself. 

In the case of this second variant of COVID-19, it is clear that it is more contagious, making spreading the virus incredibly easy and therefore even more deadly. Alerting people through these anonymous tip-offs allows them to be aware, prepare, and could even save their lives. 

How to download it

The app is available for iOS and Android and can be downloaded from their respective app stores. 

If you're needing help through the process, have a look at this explainer video: 

Leila Stein

Leila Stein is an experienced multimedia journalist and content producer with a special interest in data journalism. she is skilled in news writing, editing, online writing and multimedia content production and have a Bachelor of Journalism  from Rhodes University and an Honours in Historical Studies from University of Cape Town.