As South Africans commence a 21-day lockdown, a group of researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) is working tirelessly on a smartphone app that could play an important role in managing future outbreaks of COVID-19 and economic recovery.
Governments around the globe are currently taking measures to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus; in time infection rates should start to stabilise and, eventually, decrease.
Once this happens, being able to verify that you’ve either already had the virus or recently undergone testing will be of the utmost importance for public health. Further down the line, it will also become crucial to verify that you have been vaccinated.
“The problem with a lockdown is it works, but only for a short period of time,” explains Associate Professor Co-Pierre Georg, convenor of UCT’s sought-after master’s in financial technology.
“There’s a huge demand for apps that allow governments to – among other things – trace the physical contacts a person had once they test positive for corona.”
Fortunately, with Georg’s course attracting some of South Africa’s brightest young minds, it didn’t take long for a workable idea for a solution to emerge.
“The problem with a lockdown is it works, but only for a short period of time.”
“The moment the university sent them home, a few of my students contacted me with a proposal to work on something that could be useful in this time,” he says. “Our reading of the situation is that the ability to track and trace infected patients will become key, together with the ability to prove your covid status.”
Two weeks down the line, the group – working remotely, of course – has come up with CoviID, an app that addresses both of these needs, as well as a novel third functionality of incentivising people to practise good hygiene during viral outbreaks.
“We can use insights from behavioural economics to nudge citizens to engage not only in good health practices, but also good hygiene practices, including social distancing and self-isolation,” added Kungela Mzuku, who was in the first fintech class during 2018 and now works at Standard Bank as an innovation developer in its emerging tech (R&D) team.
“This will become a key preventive component for public health officials, and I am excited to see how the latest technology can help us achieve this in a privacy-preserving way.”
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COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March.
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“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”
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