Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: GCIS
Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: GCIS

Government to use cellphone data to trace Covid-19 contacts

By Sihle Mlambo Time of article published Apr 2, 2020

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Johannesburg - Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on Thursday said government would be using cellular network tracing technology to trace possible Covid-19 contacts. 

The minister was speaking at a press conference in Pretoria, where the National Coronavirus Command Council was giving feedback after the government published amended regulations to the state of disaster. 

Dlamini Zuma also said it was now in the regulations for medical practitioners to fill in detailed and correct information about people who had tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The minister said medical practitioners were obliged to provide the correct names, address, ID numbers, cellphone numbers and even a copy of the patient’s ID document.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been complaining for the past two weeks, about missing information in the details of confirmed cases. At least 90 positive cases are not known where they are from in South Africa's 1 380 confirmed cases. 

“Some of the doctors do not put the correct addresses and ID numbers, they don’t put the information except the name and telephone number. The Department of Health has asked that this be done and that we put it into the regulations,” she said. 

Dlamini Zuma also said the government would be using cellular network data in the fight against the virus. She said the government was taking the measure to strengthen tracing capabilities. 

“This is to make it easy when someone tests positive to be able to trace the contacts. Some of them may have contracted the Covid-19 or may be in danger of contracting it, so it is important that they are traced. 

“There is now a regulation that will allow tracers to say for example that if you test positive, and they want to trace everywhere you have been. 

“One of the measures taken is to trace the cellphone numbers of the people who were around you. Then they can check who was around you. It is not to spy on you, it's just that we may not know who was around you,” said Dlamini Zuma.

The minister said cellphones were a popular device and they had resolved that it was the best method they could use to trace more contacts. 

“When you are asked, you will not remember everyone around you. So you may not be hiding the contacts, but you just may not know who was in the bus with you,” said the minister. 

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said the government would not be intercepting calls from anyone, including people who had tested positive. 

She said concerns that the government wanted to spy on citizens was not the case. 

“We are under a disaster and a lockdown, it is spreading minute by minute. It is in our interest to minimise spread of the virus. 

“When we say we are going to use cellphone numbers to trace, it does not mean we are going to take anyone’s number,” she said. 

She said the new regulations would allow the Department of Health to submit cellphone numbers to the ECNS licenses, who would then access the geo-location data and share that with the Department of Health. 

Ndabeni-Abrahams said the permission to obtain the information was being given to the Department of Health because they are the ones who would be in possession of the patient’s information. 


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