The Department of Health has launched government’s official COVID-19 support service.
At a press briefing on Friday evening, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said one of the critical aspects of combatting COVID-19 is the ability to detect positive cases early, track and trace their contacts, and refer them for appropriate management.
“The digital system that the Department of Health is currently using, called COVIDConnect, brings an easy-to-use self-service portal to your cellular phone. It is freely accessible through WhatsApp and SMS. What also makes it more accessible is that it does not require for a user to have a smart phone but it works on any mobile phone,” said Minister Mkhize.
The system enhances the physical effort of contact tracking and tracing done by community health workers and volunteers.
“It automates this traditional process and continuously engages with the affected user,” he said.
When a patient is tested for COVID-19, their information is picked up from the lab form and they will be informed of their test result, whether positive or negative, by SMS.
If the result is positive, the system prompts the patient for further information in order to identify their contacts. The system then immediately dispatches alerts via SMS to those contacts without disclosing the index patient’s details.
The non-disclosure of the patient’s name is to ensure that their privacy is protected.
In addition, the system can geo-locate the nearest quarantine and isolation facility for the user and the nearest health care facility for patients or their contacts who are experiencing symptoms requiring medical attention.
Users can also get the latest COVID-19 news and information, prevention tips and wellness advice at the touch of a button.
The system also boasts a simple risk-assessment tool, which screens users for COVID-19 symptoms and gives them advice on whether they should self-isolate or seek professional clinical assistance.
“We are pleased to announce that since the system went live in June, it has yielded some positive results. Between June 28 and July 15, it has dispatched 674 380 SMSs to users nationwide and relayed 326 522 test results.”
Mkhize said while 39,463 users have engaged with the service, this is not enough.
“The surge of this pandemic requires all citizens to participate in such innovations. As an individual, at home or at work, once you receive this SMS, we urge that you take it upon yourself to respond as prompted. We believe that this method will significantly enhance contact tracing and allow us to identify cases that we would not easily trace.”
The Minister said the track and trace service will not infringe people’s privacy or data.
“In fact, 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 the department held a consultation with Madame Justice Kate O’Reagan, who is the COVID-19 designate judge.
Her guidance assisted government to establish regulations on how to implement the track and trace system.
He also acknowledged entities that the Department of Health partnered with including Telkom/ BCX, GovChat and BlueBird.
To access COVIDConnect, the public can add the number 0600 123 456 to their phonebook and say ‘hello’ on WhatsApp.
For members of the public who do not have smartphones, they can dial *134*832# and follow the prompts.
The public has been urged to supply healthcare workers with their correct date of birth, physical address and cellphone number when testing for COVID-19.
To receive results on WhatsApp, individuals can add ‘LetsTalk’ to thier phonebook on 082 046 8553 and type in ‘Results’ on WhatsApp and follow the prompts.
As of Friday, South Africa had recorded 13 373 new COVID-19 cases bringing the cumulative total to 337 594.