South Africa To Ramp Up COVID-19 Testing

“The reconstruction and recovery plan that will be finalised will build on the R500 billion economic and social relief package we announced in April, which has provided vital support for households, companies and workers at a time of dire need."

A healthcare worker collecting a swab for a COVID-19 test from a community member. AFP via Getty Images

President Cyril Ramaphosa says, as new COVID-19 infections decline and the pressure on health facilities is reduced, the country now has sufficient capacity to expand the criteria for testing.

The President said this on Wednesday evening when he addressed the nation on South Africa’s risk-adjusted response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and announced that South Africa would move to lockdown alert level 1 from midnight on Sunday.

“Among the categories of people we will now be able to test are all those who are admitted to hospital, outpatients with COVID symptoms, and individuals who have been in close contact with confirmed cases whether or not they themselves have symptoms.

“Alongside increased testing, we are improving contact tracing through the deployment of the COVID Alert South Africa mobile phone app and the COVID Connect WhatsApp platform,” the President said.

Effective testing and contact tracing systems will allow government to quickly identify and contain outbreaks before they spread further.

“I want to make a call this evening to everyone who has a smartphone in South Africa to download the COVID Alert mobile app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. The app has been zero-rated by mobile networks, so you can download it without any data costs,” President Ramaphosa said.

Using Bluetooth technology, the app will alert any user if they have been in close contact with any other user who has tested positive for Coronavirus in the past 14 days.

The app is completely anonymous, it does not gather any personal information, nor does it track anybody’s location.

“The Department of Health has also developed WhatsApp and SMS systems for people without smartphones to provide them with test results and alert them to any possible exposure to the virus,” the President said.

COVID Alert SA App
COVID Alert SA App

He explained that contact tracing is an important preventative measure that people can use to protect themselves and close family and friends.

Survey to assess levels of COVID-19 infections

South Africa will embark on a nationwide study that will allow scientists to estimate the extent of asymptomatic infections and immunity within the population as well as better understand the transmission patterns of the virus.

“We will be undertaking a nationwide survey to assess the actual levels of infection within society. This survey – known as a seroprevalence survey – uses antibody tests to see if a person has been exposed to the Coronavirus,” the President said.

The country continues to maintain health care capacity to ensure that it can manage any possible outbreaks of infections effectively, and to ensure that everyone receives the care they need.

While South Africa is working to prevent further transmission of the virus, government is also preparing for a time when a vaccine becomes available.

“To ensure that South Africa is able to access an effective vaccine as quickly as possible and in sufficient quantities to protect the population, the country is participating in a global initiative supported by the World Health Organisation to pool resources for the development and distribution of a vaccine.

“Through this initiative, South Africa joins other countries in supporting several vaccine development programmes and seeking equitable access to successful vaccines at a lower cost,” the President said.

South Africa has through its position as chair of the African Union, been advocating for equitable access across the globe so that no country should be left behind.

“We are also investing in our own capacity to produce and distribute a vaccine locally, so that South Africa can play a key role in the effort to expand access to vaccines,” the President said.

The country is already participating in three vaccine trials.

Economic recovery plans

Following several weeks of engagement, the social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) have made progress on an ambitious social compact for economic recovery.

“Cabinet will build on this emerging common ground to finalise the country’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan in the coming weeks.

“The reconstruction and recovery plan that will be finalised will build on the R500 billion economic and social relief package we announced in April, which has provided vital support for households, companies and workers at a time of dire need,” the President said.

Gender-based violence

The President said violence against women and children has continued unabated during the period of the pandemic.

“Based on the latest data, we have identified 30 hotspots around the country where this problem is most rife. As we move to the next alert level, we are increasing and improving support services for survivors of gender-based violence, particularly in the identified hotspots,” the President said.

These efforts are part of work already underway to implement the National Strategic Plan adopted by Cabinet earlier this year.

This includes the rollout of an integrated and multidisciplinary model that incorporates psycho-social support, case investigation, housing services and economic empowerment for survivors under one roof.

“The Khuseleka One Stop Centres expand on the mandate of the existing network of Thuthuzela Care Centres, and are already operational in districts in the North West, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.

“Work is underway to expand this model of care and support to all provinces. Let us spare no effort to eradicate the problem of violence against women and children,” the President said. –


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