Singapore makes contact tracing devices available to residents

TraceTogether tokens are seen on Monday before being distributed to residents at Jalan Besar Community Club, as the Singapore government speeds up contact tracing efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Reuters photo)

Singapore on Monday began distributing contact tracing devices to all residents who want them to beef up the city-state’s ability to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The pager-like wearable electronic device, dubbed the TraceTogether token, complements the contact tracing smartphone app the government made available for download earlier this year but whose use among the public has so far been limited.

“What I would like is to get to 70% participation rate,” Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters, noting that somewhere around 5% of the population, who are without smartphones, have yet to participate in the government-initiated contact tracing network.

Since the government began making the contact tracing app available in March, it has been downloaded by 2.4 million people. But, it has been marred by technical issues.

To supplement the app, the government started giving the wearable digital devices to a small number of elderly people a few months ago. And now, the government is aiming to distribute it nationwide.

Initially, the elderly will continue to be a target, but the device will be distributed to a broader section of society over the next three months.

With the help of these gadgets, the government is hoping to reopen the economy safely as various kinds of restrictions are lifted.

“Our strategy right now is to reopen the economy and society but do so with the presence of intensive contact tracing, regular testing…and (while) maintaining the rules of social distancing,” Balakrishnan said. “We hope that in the weeks and months to come to be able to do this reopening in a safe manner.”

On privacy concerns, the foreign minister said the device identifies proximity to other devices via Bluetooth and does not track location. The data is encrypted locally within the device and can only be accessed by the Health Ministry when there is an infection.

“This whole program is only here because we are dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the moment this is no longer necessary, we will shut down,” he said.

The government has not made the use of the TraceTogether app or token mandatory.

WRITER: Kyodo News