Fixed-line operator Telkom, together with a group of partners, has developed a new track-and-trace platform to help the country's efforts to fight Covid-19, it said on Thursday.

The partially state-owned entity said it has been working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to develop the system, which takes into account SA’s unique circumstances, which include extreme income inequality, poverty and overcrowding.

Telkom group CEO Sipho Maseko said the platform is a collaboration between its IT subsidiary BCX, which created the interface for the app using technology from its networking infrastructure unit, Openserve.

He said the group’s mobile business, Telkom Mobile, will provide the actual mobile location sites that will enhance the ability to build a “heat map of where the virus may probably be spreading to”.

The track-and-trace system collates multiple data sources such as geographic information systems (GIS) to track an infected person’s exposure and who they may have unknowingly exposed to the coronavirus.

Telkom said this will reduce the reliance on the patient’s own recollections and enable the CSIR to contact people who were in the same proximity as the patient.

To effectively track and trace people with the virus or those that they may have come into contact with it, there needs to be co-operation from other operators as not all South Africans use Telkom’s services.

Maseko said if a person of interest uses another network provider, those operators will be asked on a case-by-case basis to make their network data available. 

Samsung handsets

Telkom has also partnered with Samsung to distribute 1,500 handsets to trackers across the country, which the department of health will be using to trace primary contacts and ensure testing for secondary contacts, in some communities. The system will integrate the information collected by the trackers.

“What we face is a generation-defining moment; a challenge unlike any other. However, our belief in Africa and its people remains steadfast and strong. I know that, working together, we can and we will rise to this challenge,” said Sung Yoon, CEO and president of Samsung Africa.

Thursday’s announcement marks the latest Covid-19 efforts by Telkom. Last week, the operator pledged R15m to SA’s primary healthcare sector.

The group said the donation is part of its “multi-pronged approach to support SA’s efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 and its effects”. Others include the zero-rating of data costs in accessing learning material for universities and public schools to enable learning and teaching to continue.

Though the devices from Samsung will be given to health workers to aid their work, Maseko said Thursday’s announcement is separate. He said Telkom has so far spent about R9m on activities related to Covid-19 beyond last week’s donation, though this is an ongoing effort. 

“The costs can only really be counted once we have defeated the coronavirus.” 

Update: April 2 2020 
This article has been updated with company comment and financial information.


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