Technology can't cure Covid.
Personal experience with the dreaded global pandemic has shown that technology is meaningless in the fight to stop the spread when access to digital tools is spotty.
I couldn’t sleep because I think I infected the pizza delivery guy with Covid-19. While I did santise the money and was wearing a mask for the brief interaction, I short counted the cash by R10 and had to run back into the house to get it and I don’t think I sanitised it before giving it to him.
SARS-CoV-2 and its new variant 501.v2 is the perfect virus to lay waste to humanity. We’re naturally social creatures and have built up certain rituals of engagement that is augmented by technology. Paying the pizza delivery guy should’ve been done via Snapscan or online, but issues with data connectivity make that a difficult proposition in real time.
I hope he has Discovery healthcare, though. My journey from symptom screening to testing centre was quite painless and remarkably efficient. The screening questionnaire leads you into the Dr Connect interface where you can communicate with a medical professional who then refers you for a test at a private facility.
If you follow all the steps correctly the entire process is covered by a WHO outbreak benefit and this coverage is extended to all Discovery Health members regardless of what plan they are on. This includes the R850 cost of the PCR test. There’s a few requirements, though.
One is, of course, you have to be a Discovery member. The next hurdle is access to a device that can log on to the app or online. Then you need data or a reliable internet connection to interact with a healthcare professional as well as a working email account to receive the referral letter.
As a recipient of this newsletter you may find this laundry list of requirements quite trivial, but imagine the pizza delivery guy on his scooter who is also facing loadshedding around his already busy schedule and limited resources. He can’t afford to take time out of his day to address the symptoms he may be feeling.
And, to crown it all, he was using a cheap Android phone, so he is undoubtedly affected by the known issues around the Covid contact tracing service.
“We are aware of an issue affecting Android apps developed using the Android Exposure Notifications System,” a Google spokesperson told The Verge. “Our engineers are investigating the issue.”
The UK came under fire in 2020 when healthcare officials were demanding better accuracy in the Google/Apple co-developed contact tracing service and instead captured contact tracing data on a spreadsheet. In its defense there has been serious deficiencies on the functionality of the Android implementation from the beginning.
Another factor limiting the effectiveness of exposure monitoring software is that it works on a population level. If everybody has it and uses it, then the maximum number of people can be notified of possible exposure. Early symptom identification and early testing can allow for early isolation and a lower risk of spreading the virus.
A good way to supercharge app adoption is if healthcare and, subsequently pandemic management, is done centrally through a universal system. You then have access to a country-sized database and can push notifications or incentives for users to download and register for the monitoring app.
Unfortunately South Africa has a complicated private and public healthcare system that makes treatment paths unclear. A preliminary study in Lancet identified this kind of system as a major driver of infections because not everyone is getting the same level of care.
It seems that the best weapon we have against COVID-19 is still mass participation in social distancing, mask wearing and common sense.
I still can’t say with any certainty how or where SARS-CoV-2 entered my household and the 41 exposure notifications on my iPhone that lives at home all the time doesn’t help at all because the notifications are too vague and stretches back too far beyond my symptoms.
My Android devices have yet to notify me of my wife’s positive test result that she logged on the Covid Alert SA app. I chalk it up to switching between devices and just a poor implementation that is added to the various taxes on those who can’t afford an iPhone (increased advertising and data collection).
A vaccine won’t fix the problems in our society and we need to find a way to live with the threat of infection until a lasting solution can be found.
Something you should know about:
I’ve also found that Signal is funded through donations, but given the service outages experienced it would seem that more funding is needed to liberate additional server capacity to cope with a sharp increase in users.
There is still no message content security risk in using the WhatsApp and really no reason to leap from the sinking ship just yet.
A number that may only interest me:
The clause in the Kendal Power Station Atmospheric Emissions License that was breached, which forced the sanctions as set out in Section 28 of the National Evironmental Management Act.
Eskom has been in contravention of environmental emissions standards at Kendal since 2019, with an October 2020 report noting similar issues at Camden, Tutuka, Duvha and Lethabo. This is the primary force behind the current state of loadshedding and has not been communicated to the public.