Coronavirus: 10,000 seniors get first batch of TraceTogether tokens

Staff, volunteers give out tokens, explain device during house visits

Mr Ng Cheong Hwee, 82, with his TraceTogether token, which he wears around his neck whenever he goes out. Mr Ng does not own a smartphone. He had never heard of TraceTogether either, as he does not keep up with the news. Volunteers and staff with the
Mr Ng Cheong Hwee, 82, with his TraceTogether token, which he wears around his neck whenever he goes out. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

A face mask is not the only item that Mr Ng Cheong Hwee has to remember to take with him whenever he leaves his home - he now carries the TraceTogether token as well.

Even though the 82-year-old retiree does not understand the technology behind it, he does feel "safer" when going out with it hanging around his neck, he said.

"I don't know how it works, but I was told that if I was near a Covid-19 patient, the authorities would know and I would be informed. That makes me feel quite assured," he told The Straits Times in Mandarin.

Mr Ng is among the 10,000 seniors who received the first batch of the dongles, which are an alternative to the TraceTogether smartphone app that is used for contact tracing.

Like the app, the tokens work by exchanging Bluetooth signals with other nearby tokens or devices running the TraceTogether app.

When a TraceTogether user is confirmed to have the virus, contact tracers from the Ministry of Health will contact the user to facilitate the download of data from the device.

Contact tracers then use this data to determine the patient's close contacts and get in touch with them.

The first batch of tokens was handed out to vulnerable seniors in a three-day distribution exercise from June 28. Recipients include those who are living on their own, have poor family support, are physically frail, or do not own or use digital devices.

Volunteers and staff with the Silver Generation Office (SGO) had distributed the dongles via house visits, and explained the purpose and use of the tokens to the seniors.

Mr Ng does not own a smartphone, nor know how to use one. He had never heard of TraceTogether either, as he does not keep up with the news.

"I just know that I should carry this everywhere I go. Since it is meant to help me, I don't mind," he said.

Ms Noelle Caleb J.G., 72, is another senior who received a token. She uses a smartphone to keep in touch with friends and family via WhatsApp, and watches videos on YouTube, but she does not know how to download additional apps.

Even though she finds it convenient to carry the dongle in her handbag, she expressed concerns over it tracking her every move. "Will my personal information get out there accidentally and get me in trouble? That's always at the back of my mind," she said.

The token captures only proximity data based on Bluetooth signals, and holds data in an encrypted format for no more than 25 days.

The encrypted data cannot be remotely extracted as the device does not have any Internet connectivity.

The tokens also cannot capture geolocation data, as it has no global positioning system.

The portable devices have a battery life of about six to nine months, and do not need to be charged.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) said: "SGO will continue to generate more awareness about the token among our prioritised population, such as through telephone engagements and other opportunistic engagements with seniors, while government efforts are under way to distribute the token to more seniors."

Details of subsequent distribution to reach other segments of the population will be shared later, added SNDGG.

To date, only about 2.1 million people have downloaded the TraceTogether app. This falls short of the optimum number of users that is needed for TraceTogether to work effectively, which is about three quarters of the population.

"For the time efficiency and accuracy of contact tracing to improve, we need more people on board the TraceTogether programme. It is only with sufficient usage and the relevant data that these digital tools can work effectively," SNDGG had said in an earlier statement.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2020, with the headline 10,000 seniors get first batch of TraceTogether tokens. Subscribe