POLAND - 2020/02/17: In this photo illustration a
  • A South African startup has developed tags that can replace expensive Covid-19 tracing tech.
  • The tags can help track who has come into contact with an infected colleague, are cheap, and don’t use data.
  • The company is getting interest from large SA companies.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A South African start-up has launched a cheap approach to contact tracing to help with their coronavirus measures.

To contain Sars-CoV-2 infections, countries like the United Kingdom, Singapore and South Korea have relied heavily on contact tracing to track exactly who was in contact with an infected person.

South Korea, for instance, is one of the only countries in the world that has brought a major Covid-19 outbreak under control. It's not currently enforcing stay-at-home orders, and most businesses are open.

The country is relying on high-tech solutions — a government app tracks the location of new airport arrivals, and mandatory location tracking bracelets are given to people who break quarantine laws.

The UK is now due to trial its own contact tracing app that warns users when they’ve come into contact with someone with the virus.

But these solutions are strictly high-tech, and use apps installed on smartphones to work. Developing countries such as South Africa can’t rely on a large existing install base of smartphones to track and quarantine individuals

South African company Automatech has stepped forward with a low-tech solution. The company’s Active Contact Tracing uses nothing but small tags, coupled with its own software, two track contact between people.


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According to Tim Stevens, a director at Automatech, the technology has attracted international interest, as well as the attention of large South African companies.

The technology was originally developed for the South African market, to require no sophisticated hardware or lots of data. The devices are relatively cheap – R250 for a unit, which means that a medium-sized company of 50 people can get set up for R15,000.

Stevens says large companies such as Tiger Brands and Pioneer have already signed up, and Automatech is now in discussion with several mining companies.

The tags don’t track your location. “We don’t care where you are,” says Stevens. Rather, they track interactions with other tags, so that the company can see who you’ve come into contact with.

In the event of a Covid-19 outbreak, companies will not need to shut down for weeks while employees self-quarantine. Instead the tags be able to indicate precisely who infected persons have come into contact with. The tags will run for a year without needing a charge.

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