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COVID-19 floods the world with next-generation apps

The COVID-19 crisis has inspired a new generation of apps, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

The oldest cliché about mobile apps is that, whatever one needs to do in the digital world, “there’s an app for that”. But when the world entered the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was more a case of “we can adapt our app for that”.

Every app that was geared towards personal safety, time and resource management, self-improvement, movement or e-commerce almost overnight became an app to help cope with lockdown and restricted movement.

Joining these, a new generation of apps has emerged to help track the spread of the pandemic, and help people make better decisions based on infection rates in their areas, or on the likely impact of the spread on movement. They are not only mobile apps: web apps or browser-based tools have quickly been roped in to help the world.

Initially, most of the developers of these apps and tools were what one might call garage developers – meaning they were one-person efforts to solve an immediate problem. But the output has escalated for the point where even the United Nations has got involved.

One of the most recent efforts is a COVID-19 Self-Diagnostic Application & Predictive Modelling Dashboard, to help South Africans self-assess their COVID-19 symptoms, and aid government efforts to pinpoint virus hotspots.  It is a team effort, involving the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the Global Surgery Foundation, the Rali and Makentse Mampeule Foundation, the University of Cape Town Division of Global Surgery; and Slalom, a global technology company. 

By assisting authorities in identifying communities with a high prevalence of COVID-19 symptoms, the dashboard facilitates stargeted testing and treatment. Aside from this allowing testing and treatment resources to be allocated more effectively, it also assists in predicting new in-country spread and identifying “safe zones”.

The app is described as a “voluntary self-diagnostic tool collects data that is fully anonymous”, with low data demands and will be available in local languages across Africa.

Apps can be used not only to assist governments, but also to influence them. Grassroot, an app that was built to allow people without data to participate in large scale civil society campaigns, was roped into a campaign by the Children’s Institute and to increase the social grant during the COVID-19 lockdown. As a result, in five days in April, 530,000 people signed the petition.  On 14 April, the signature records were sent to the Presidency and National Treasury. A few days later, an increase in the social grant was approved.

Sean Bacher provided the following round-up of COVID-19 apps for a variety of needs. Most are available from regular app stores:

InstaEats shifts focus to charities

Before COVID-19, InstaEats positioned itself as a food guide, focused entirely on restaurants, and had built an advertising platform. But now it has shifted its business to include any type of food being produced and delivered during lockdown. It has created a directory for these businesses at to feature and advertise their services and offerings, and extended the service to restaurants are offering takeaways. Most significantly, though, due to job losses in the hospitality industry, it has used its audience and platforms to create awareness of relevant charities.

M4Jam helps spaza shops feed the community

M4Jam used informal spaza shops to facilitate distribution of food parcels to  those in need during the lockdown period.  M4Jam has announced that any registered jobbers – those who have signed onto the platform to find temporary micro-jobs in return for cash and airtime products – can be signed up to receive hampers of essential items. Having direct access to spaza shops throughout South Africa, M4Jam engages with the spaza owners via their app and uses them as assembly and distribution points. Not only does this aid in feeding the people in need, but the spaza owners, who facilitate this from end to end, can make money and continue business operations in the communities.

COVID19 4Health

4Sight AccTech has launched COVID19 4Health, a cloud-based app to enable organisations of all sizes to monitor employees, contractors and visitors in relation to COVID-19, both at their work premises and remote workplaces, in order to help them comply with government regulations. The app is fully automated and provides a comprehensive screening and attendance system that can be implemented within 24 hours. It allows for capturing health information from all visitors and remote workers, with a full reporting system.

Cartoon Network GameBox

To keep children entertained at home, Cartoon Network has introduced GameBox – a virtual toy box that includes a variety of web games.  From Ben 10 to The Amazing World of Gumball, Apple and Onion and Teen Titans Go!, the catalogue of games available to play ranges from action and adventure to puzzles and racing. Games are interspersed with animation and tappable on-screen ‘toys’, encouraging kids to explore the rich environment within the app. In addition to many fan-favourite Cartoon Network games, new games are added regularly.

Read about more apps and digital campaigns that help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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