A lot of measures have been put in place in Singapore to ensure the spread of Covid-19 stops. From circuit breaker to reopening the economy in three phases, the government is constantly looking for new ways to contain the global pandemic on a local level.

On the technological front, they’ve launched an app, TraceTogether, to help speed up contact-tracing. However, after feedback that the app drains one’s phone battery and doesn’t work well on iOS, they’ve launched another way to establish contact tracing: a new TraceTogether token.

The TraceTogether token will work the same way as the TraceTogether app on smartphones. TraceTogether works by exchanging Bluetooth signals between phones to identify close contacts of a Covid-19 patient.

Speaking at the multi-ministry task force press conference yesterday, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office initiative, said the device will not have a GPS chip or Internet connectivity.

He said: “It is not a tracking device. It is not an electronic tag, as some Internet commentaries have fretted about.”

Dr Balakrishnan was addressing concerns that emerged following his announcement of the device in Parliament last Friday. An online petition, which has garnered more than 35,000 signatures, highlighted privacy concerns about the device.

Dr Balakrishnan said that without a GPS chip, the device cannot track the user’s movements. There is also no possibility of data being uploaded without the user’s consent.

He said: “It’s worth emphasising that there isn’t one big giant centralised database. In fact, the data is decentralised and encrypted on phones and on devices and only uploaded if (the patient) is positive.”

The device, which uses Bluetooth proximity data, will be used only for contact tracing, and the data in the phone or the device will be stored for up to 25 days, after which it will be automatically deleted.

Only a restricted team of contact tracers can access the data, and all officers will be covered by the Official Secrets Act. The first batch of the device will be delivered later this month.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that peak viral load occurs in the early stages of the disease, and there has also been instances of asymptomatic transmission.

He said: “That makes it all the more vital that we identify both patients and close contacts as soon as possible. I can’t emphasise enough the need for quick identification. And this is where the digital tools come in.”

It used to take two to three days for contact tracers to reconstruct the activity map for each patient, but with digital tools, it now takes less than a day from identifying a patient to issuing quarantine orders for close contacts.

Text: Adeline Tan / The New Paper / June 2020
Additional text: Sally Manik
Featured image: ST File