Forum: Contact tracing app already has an effect at current take-up rate

The Government's recent announcement that everyone in Singapore might soon receive a wearable device for contact tracing drew impassioned debate over privacy concerns (Singapore looking at wearable contact tracing device for all, June 6).

Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said that for now, the Government will still be adopting the voluntary participation approach, and will not make both the wearable device and TraceTogether app mandatory (Contact tracing device to be rolled out this month, June 9).

The choice to use the device or the app should remain voluntary.

It has been mentioned that the current take-up rate of the TraceTogether app is far below the 75 per cent of the population that should install it for it to be effective.

But digital contact tracing is not an all-or-nothing affair.

A report from an Oxford University team put up on the university's website in April suggests that contact tracing apps can have an effect at all levels of uptake.

Based on the Oxford team's models, at 60 per cent uptake, digital contact tracing can suppress a pandemic on its own.

Below a 60 per cent uptake, the app helps but needs to be combined with other containment and prevention methods, such as social distancing, to halt a pandemic.

About 1.8 million users have downloaded TraceTogether, which represent about 25 per cent of Singapore's population (25% of TraceTogether users update app to latest version, June 10).

The Oxford models found that "the app has an effect at all levels of uptake" and that every level of adoption slows a pandemic to some extent.

By the Oxford team's projections, the current take-up rate here could translate into as much as a one-third reduction in the peak number of second-wave cases. Such a reduction would be a major feat.

Moreover, we are already using a comprehensive suite of measures alongside digital contact tracing, which flatten the curve even further.

Digital contact tracing is more of a shot in the arm; things such as mass testing, social distancing and personal hygiene are the real muscle of pandemic response.

We will win this battle. How we do it, though, will reflect on us as a society.

Sean Lim