Following the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak around the world, much has been written about China, Italy, and the United States. Much less has been written about emerging countries who face their very own COVID-19 challenge: that many of the tools that work in countries with high smartphone penetration don’t work in a country where a sizeable part of the population — in particular the most vulnerable part of our population — does not have a smartphone.

South Africa continues through an extended national lockdown with strict restrictions on people's movement to help contain the virus. So far these bold efforts have seemed to help flatten the curve of new cases but in doing so has devastated our economy.

While all individuals from large businesses to SMEs and those earning minimum wage require the economy to restart, this would allow the virus to spread and threaten public health. As we look globally to alternatives of a strict lockdown, the picture does not look much brighter.

The need for privacy

So far China and countries in Europe have made successful attempts to contain the spread of COVID-19 with some public movement by using a model of mass surveillance and tracking. All data about an individual's health and movements are collected and centrally controlled by the government.

These models are both an unparalleled invasion of privacy and a cyber-security risk.

Individuals will lose their control of how their geo-location and health data are used and storing individuals' detailed health status and geolocation on one database becomes a prime target for trackers. Our data has become our most valuable asset in the digital age and should be protected in this manner.

COVI-ID

These models suggest that for the country's survival, individuals must forego their right to privacy, however, a blockchain-powered application currently being developed by UCT students, entrepreneurs and academics offers an alternative solution to mass surveillance. Covi-ID is a Self-Sovereign Identity wallet that helps contain the spread of COVID-19 and gives individuals privacy over their data.

So, what makes our system different from the system used e.g. in China?

In one word: privacy. We believe that information as sensitive as your health status, should be controlled by exactly one person: you! Proving your status will help restore your freedom of movement while still complying with necessary restrictions applied to ensure public health.

Giving users privacy over their health data

For citizens, this is how Covi-ID will work. A user will create a Covi-ID account and submit their COVID-19 status. Once this is done, a QR code will be generated that will store this information in a privacy-preserving way, using our technology infrastructure.

Covi-ID will enable you to connect with your medical professional of choice and ask them to verify that your status is indeed true. After this simple process, the user would possess a reliable proof of their health status in the form of a QR code.

The QR code of your health status can be stored on your smartphone using the Covi-ID app. However, Covi-ID also recognizes that limiting the product to a smartphone app would limit many people from using it.

To ensure that everyone has access to Covi-ID, if you don’t have a smartphone, your QR code can be generated by a custodian such as the Department of Health, universities or NGOs. The individual can then obtain their QR code in a printed and laminated form to carry on their person.

By using a Self-Sovereign Identity model, Covi-ID can also ensure that the private, health status of users cannot be tampered with, preventing corruption and manipulation.

Finding a new normal

For businesses such as supermarkets, minibus taxis, banks or schools, there will be a verifier app available. The Covi-ID verifier app is designed to be used in public spaces to increase the level of security in order to decrease the chances of further outbreaks. Individuals would be able to undergo accurate health-screening for access control of public spaces such as their place of work; shopping malls or public transport.

Using this app, they will be able to scan your QR code and verify your COVID-19 status. To protect your privacy, this app uses the green-amber-red color scheme to indicate your status. Throughout this process, the user has full authority on who can access their data and for what purpose.

●    Green status means that the user has either recovered from COVID-19 or recently tested negative.
●    The amber status means that this user has not recently been tested and did not yet contract the virus.
●    Red status means the user is infected and should self-isolate.

While returning to "business as usual" seems far away, Covi-ID is being built to provide a free, open-source platform that helps South Africa move into a new normal. A place where public health can be protected and all individuals’ privacy is preserved.

How can you help?

We are always looking for people that share our vision and wish to contribute to our mission.

If you are interested in joining us, please send an email to info@coviid.me or contact us through our social media channels.

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