Major concerns over South Africa’s COVID-19 contact tracing

Hanno Labuschagne, 1 August 2020

The National Department of Health’s use of the COVIDConnect platform as a contact tracing solution is a misguided attempt to make its previously failed contact tracing more palatable.

This is according to Associate Professor Co-Pierre Georg of the University of Cape Town, a fintech expert who is part of the team behind the development of the Covi-ID QR-based contact tracing solution.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize recently announced the launch of COVIDConnect – the government’s contact tracing solution which runs on platforms like WhatsApp, SMS, and USSD, and employs a chatbot for its user interface.


Failed attempt at cellphone tracking

Government has abandoned a previous attempt to conduct contact tracing through cellphone tower location triangulation.

Georg explained this method was flawed because the spatial resolution for cellphone tracking was too low, which meant that a particular device could only be pinpointed to within a certain radius.

“In an urban environment, it’s a radius of about 400m,” Georg explained. “But within that radius, in a township, you can have up to 5,000 people in rural areas, the spatial resolution is much worse.”

“I know that the NDoH had been warned about the shortcomings of this technology and I don’t understand why they chose to still go that route,” Georg noted.

“This could never have worked, and anyone who does even a cursory Google search would have been able to tell that to Zweli Mkhize,” he added. 

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