Covid-19: New regulations make it easier to trace contacts of infected people

Retired judge to be appointed to protect right to privacy

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Photo of cell phone
Cellphones are going to play a role in government’s plan to trace the contacts of people infected with coronavirus. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

New disaster management regulations published on Thursday describe how the government intends tracing those who have come into contact with people who have tested positive for Covid-19.

A strong database is at the heart of government’s virus-combatting efforts, as is tracking movements of people through their cellphones.

The Director General of Health is authorised to ask for information from cellphone networks about the movements of anyone known to have the virus or believed to have been in contact with someone from 5 March until the end of the national distaster.

This may only be used for “contact tracing”.

A retired judge will be appointed to oversee the enforcement of these regulations to safeguard the right to privacy.

Within six weeks after the State of Disaster has lapsed, or terminated, anyone affected will be informed that information was obtained this way. The information on the database will be “de-identified” and can only be used for research purposes.

The regulations state that the national Department of Health shall develop and maintain a national database to enable the tracing of persons, known, or reasonably suspected to have contracted the virus.

It shall contain their full names, ID numbers, residential address, cellphone numbers and the names and details of others who they may have been in contact with.

The gathering of this information largely falls on the shoulders of sample takers, laboratories and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

“Where any person is tested, the person taking the sample must obtain as much information as possible, including a copy of their passport, ID or driver’s licence and promptly submit this and information of any contacts to the Director-General for inclusion on the database,” the regulations read.

Laboratories will be responsible for transmitting the result for input onto the system.

And the NCID must transmit all details it has.

The information remains confidential and cannot be disclosed unless necessary to prevent and combat the disease.

As for people who were “locked down” in hotels, lodges, guest houses, game reserves and holiday resorts, the owners of these establishments must provide the Director-General of Health with all their details.

Other key changes

Spaza shops and informal traders are allowed to trade, as long as they have permits from their local municipality.

People can now leave their homes and travel across provinces to attend funerals.

Funerals are still limited to 50 people.

Those wishing to travel will have to get permission from a local magistrate or a police station. They will be required to provide proof, in the form of a death certificate or a sworn affidavit, of the person’s death.

Only spouses, parents, grandparents or someone closely affiliated - “ a person who has developed a significant relationship based on care giving, psychological or emotional attachment” will be allowed to travel.

Only two people can travel together. They can only stay in the area for 48 hours and they must stay at a hotel or a guest house, not at the residence of a friend or relative.

CORRECTION: This article was amended to note that the new regulations apply till the end of the national disaster, not the lockdown.

TOPICS:  Covid-19

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