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New Covid-19 emergency number soon

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The communications industry has been given seven days to make submissions for a new Covid-19 emergency number after it was found that Vodacom had not followed the rules and continued using 111 for its customer service calls.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA / the Authority) is seeking written submissions in relation to the service codes 103, 104, 105, 106, 118, and 139 to be harmonised for COVID-19 national emergency services during the National State of Disaster.

The number will be assigned under the Department of Health and shall be returned to the Authority within nine (9) months after the termination of the National State of Disaster.

The Authority published a notice on 15 April 2020 to harmonise and mandate the short code “111” for COVID-19 national emergency services, in line with the Numbering Plan Regulations. It was subsequently confirmed that the “111” short code is being used – incorrectly – by Vodacom for its customer care centres. Consequently, the National Department of Health was inundated with calls from Vodacom customers. It is through this consultation process that the Authority is withdrawing the ‘111’ short code and intends to replace it with a new emergency service number.

The Numbering Regulations of 2016 harmonised short code ‘135’ for customer care services by all network operators; this came into effect on 24 March 2018, after which the short code ‘111’ should have been decommissioned for customer care services.

“In order to address this matter adequately and without compromising our intentions of facilitating access to the COVID-19 communication centres by South Africans, we have decided to engage in urgent consultation to harmonise a new number to the Department of Health. We have therefore resolved to separately address Vodacom’s matter regarding the use of service code ‘111’ as provided for by the Numbering Plan Regulations”, ICASA Acting Chairperson, Adv. Dimakatso Qocha, said.

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