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Tech ecosystem responds to COVID-19

By , ITWeb Africa editor.
Africa , 23 Mar 2020
Tech businesses and entrepreneurs have responded with their intended continuity plans and their contribution to efforts to tackle the virus.
Tech businesses and entrepreneurs have responded with their intended continuity plans and their contribution to efforts to tackle the virus.

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread globally, businesses have responded with their intended continuity plans and their contribution to efforts to tackle the virus.

Telecommunications services providers have released statements outlining their official position on the unfolding crisis.

On 22 March 2020 an Ethiopian Airlines cargo flight carrying 5.4 million face masks, kits for 1.08 million detection tests, 40,000 sets of protective clothing and 60,000 sets of protective face shields, landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The donation from the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation will be transported on and distributed throughout Africa.

According to a statement released, the relief initiative forms part of ongoing efforts by each Foundation to contain the spread of COVID-19 and provide aid to afflicted communities across the globe.

Recently, the foundations had announced their commitment to donating 100,000 medical masks, 20,000 test kits and 1,000 protective suits and face shields to each of the 54 nations in Africa.

“Getting these donations to all 54 African countries, with diverse geographic conditions and different levels of infrastructure, is a great logistical and transportation challenge. We are working around the clock to make the delivery as fast as possible. The faster we move, the earlier we can help,” stated the Jack Ma Foundation.

On 20 March 2020 Huawei Technologies donated R1-milllion to South Africa’s Department of Health, to support efforts to fight and contain the spread of COVID-19.

Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize, who also received a further two million from the South Africa-China Economic and Trade Association, at the Chinese Embassy in Pretoria, says the money will be used for testing and managing the outbreak.

The Minister thanked China for looking after South Africans in China and emphasized that despite some 80 000 infections, not one South African had been infected there.

Huawei South Africa CEO Spawn Fan said, “We are a committed ICT and social partner to South African business, government and society; this donation is our obligation as a concerned party.”

Fan added that digital connectivity would help to make the management and containment of the virus more efficient.

“We believe that the power of connectivity and technology and we are committed to harnessing ICT in the fight against Coronavirus in South Africa and on the continent. In China we saw the success of remote education, remote health services and working from home during quarantine periods. Coronavirus is not just a threat to life, its knock on effects on livelihoods and the economy must also be managed. “

Africa-focused communications solutions provider Liquid Telecom said it is guided by the belief that every individual in Africa has the right to be connected.

“This enduring belief is guiding us as we respond to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak. The health and safety of our people and those of our customers, suppliers and other business partners is paramount. We have implemented robust contingency planning across the business to protect the health of our people and those with whom we come into contact. This includes, but is not limited to, implementing the advice of the authorities, particularly the World Health Organisation and other reliable sources,” the company stated.

Vodacom Group said helping to address societal challenges, such as that posed by COVID-19, is part of its broader commitment to create a social contract with its stakeholders in the markets where it operates.

“Vodacom’s priority is the health and safety of its employees while continuing to connect, deliver services and support our customers, and in this the company is guided by the Presidency, the Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases,” the company added.

Shameel Joosub, Chief Executive Officer of Vodacom Group, said: “Vodacom can play a critical role in supporting society during this unprecedented time and is committed to doing its utmost during this rapidly evolving situation. We will endeavour to put measures in place to keep South Africans connected to their family and friends and to ensure businesses can continue to run using remote working in this time of national challenge. At the same time, we are ramping up efforts to support learners with their studies now that schools are having an unscheduled, longer holiday.”

In addition to the active network monitoring, MTN has also zero-rated a USSD line (*130*119#) for reporting infections and for other critical information. There are also two zero-rated Ayoba COVID-19 channels that are already live and are sharing updated news and information.

MTN is also working with the National Department of Health to raise awareness of its official “Dept of Health Corona” WhatsApp channel. The Department is calling on South Africans to save the number 060 012 3456 and to message “hi” to receive the latest updates directly from the experts. MTN will be sending messages to its 29 million customers to encourage use of the channel, rather than flooding the already overloaded hotline with calls.

To reduce the circulation of cash – a major infection vector - MTN’s MoMo app will, from Monday, allow for free peer-to-peer cash payments under R200. Card to wallet, instant EFT and payments to agents and participating retailers will also be zero-rated in a bid to ease the burden on consumers. In addition, the charge to send non-MoMo users a cash voucher will be made a flat rate of R10, rather than the normal sliding scale that is linked to the value of the cash being shared.

“The impact of the COVID-19 virus is far-reaching and affecting all areas of school, work and life. Our hope is that providing access to this digitised content will go far in supporting learners with their studies and assist with the academic recovery plan of the Department of Basic Education”, says Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi, General Manager: MTN SA Foundation.

Technology at the ready

With remote working becoming a reality for many over the short-term, decision-makers must evaluate how to leverage technology to maintain a semblance of normality during work hours. Keeping staff motivated and functioning during this crisis will be vital to ensure the business minimises the financial strain the shutdown will have.

Hey Jude is a human-powered digital assistant Hey Jude service, which better equips organisations to look after the well-being of their employees.

Adrian Zanetti, director at Hey Jude, says: “Companies are understandably concerned about the long-term consequences of COVID-19 on operations. This extends beyond the financial, to include the human component as well. Our current situation is something nobody could have prepared for and managing the morale of employees will be critical in these uncertain times.”

“If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that there must be more of a balance between our work and personal lives. Having people work remotely will put this even more in the spotlight, hence the need to find services to help manage our time more effectively,” says Zanetti.

Self-service

Blackboard has announced the launch of the Blackboard Collaborate Self-Service Portal that allows for higher education institutions to quickly and easily purchase and implement its virtual classroom solution.

The self-service portal significantly reduces the time from purchase to getting started to just hours in direct response to the need for institutions across the globe to quickly transition to digital teaching and learning modalities as a part of their COVID-19 contingency planning.

"We're committed to supporting the education community across South Africa and around the world as they transition rapidly to fully digital teaching and learning modalities in response to the Covid-19 global pandemic," said Lee Blakemore, Chief Client Officer & President, Global Markets at Blackboard. "Over the past several weeks we've been working hand-in-hand with our clients across the globe to help solve their most pressing challenges, such as quickly deploying virtual classrooms, training faculty and academic staff to effectively leverage teaching and learning technologies and ensuring that all digital course content is engaging, accessible and inclusive for all students."

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