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CoviID, an app developed by UCT researchers to track coronavirus patients

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The spread of the Covid-19 virus is unpredictable and one of the biggest challenges has been the ability of the government to trace the physical contacts a person had once they test positive for corona.

Researchers at the University of Cape Town have come up with a smartphone app, which according to UCT’s researchers “could play an important role in managing future outbreaks of COVID-19 and economic recovery.”

“The problem with a lockdown is it works, but only for a short period of time,” explains Associate Professor Co-Pierre Georg. “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.”

The App, named CoviID was developed to address the management of future outbreaks of COVID-19, economic recovery, ” as well as a novel third functionality of incentivising people to practise good hygiene during viral outbreaks”, UCT said.

“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,” Kungela Mzuku, Standard Bank innovation developer .

“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.”

How the App works

  • Using Bluetooth and geolocation, CoviID will be able to track and trace the movements of an individual covering the two weeks prior to their testing positive for the virus.
  • To prove a user’s status – ( necessary for travellers)school children and university students, and for anyone to enter public spaces – the app will enable a verified healthcare professional to attest to their status once they have been tested.
  • The CoviID app will collect a user’s personal location and infection status and store it on their phone using a technology called self-sovereign identity – not on a centralised government or private-sector database. This provides the user with full authority and control over who gets access to the data, for what purpose and for how long.

“Designing this kind of app is not rocket science, and we’re not the first or only ones to do it,” says Georg. “The thing that makes us different, however, is the fact that we’ve designed this from a privacy-first perspective.”

The first version of the App is said to be released within the next three weeks.

Discussions are still underway between the researchers and various governmental role-players, creating awareness as well discussing plans associated with rolling out this project,with the goal of first rolling it out in South Africa, but ultimately all over Africa.

“The team has also made progress with possible private sector partners and has buy-in from MTN and Standard Bank already.”

“I think we can get through this together and come out stronger on the other side,” Georg concludes. “It’s also exciting to think that UCT could make a meaningful contribution during this crisis.”

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Universities

R100 million plegde to reduce student fees

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Regenesys Business School has taken the initiative to reduce fees that students have to pay to study business programmes by 60%.

A pledge of R100 million has been made by the institution. This comes after looking at how the Covid-19 outbreak has affected people’s income.

This is the institutions lockdown initiative which is said to be made available to the first 500 students to register for the online MBA, Bachelor, Diploma, and Certificate programmes for the period between May and August 2020.

“Regenesys is deeply committed to helping all members of society that have been affected by pay cuts and job losses to develop a competitive edge and bounce back from the pandemic or to start their own new venture”, said Dr Marko Saravanja, Chairperson of Regenesys Business School.

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Universities

What level 3 means for higher education institutions

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The Deparment of Higher Education, Science and Technology has been working on plans to enhance online learning platforms to accommodate students so that remote learning can continue.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday (24 May), that the country will move to level 3 lockdown from the 1st of June.

The Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technolgy, Buti Manamela talking to Cape Talk explained how higher education institutions are getting ready for the reopening of universities from the 1st of June.

33% of students will be returning to campus. “Univeristies will be spending this time building up to ensure that they get the universities ready according to the guidelines and protocols regarding sanitation, PPE, and quarantine”

He further stated that most univeristies needed atleast two weeks to prepare for the students who are allowed to return to campus.

Adding to the medical and clinical students who are in campus, trimetser students will be returning to TVET colleges, these are engineering students.

This will be followed by a phase-in return of other students within various fields.

“We have had discussions with unions, students Vice-chancellors that we will have to reconstitute the academic year, that we really complete that”

In conclusion he added that, ” What we have been working on, is that all students by 1 June get some form of support and that is what we have asked universities to do -either send them a device, learning materials, data,”

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Minister Blade Nzimande to hold briefing on lockdown in the higher education sector

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Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation,Dr Blade Nzimande will hold a media briefing on matters pertaining to the lockdown in the higher education, science and innovation sector.

The Minister will be addressing the public based on their concerns about schools reopening.

The South African Union of Students ( SAUS) has expressed their concerns, and are hoping that Minister Nzimande will speak on allowing higher education institutions to reopen since Basic education sector is preparing to have grade 7and 12 learners back in school.

The Minister will address amongst other issues NSFAS allowances,SETAs stipends and the return of medical students to campus.

In the science and innovation sector, there will be an update on research on South Africa’s traditional medicine and the engagements with stakeholders in relation to indigenous knowledge systems and COVID-19.

The briefing will take place today at 11am.

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