Coronavirus pandemic

Call for more people to use contact-tracing app

The app does not collect or use users' location data, but only records who they might have been close to.
The app does not collect or use users' location data, but only records who they might have been close to.PHOTO: ST FILE

About one million people here have downloaded Singapore's contact-tracing app TraceTogether so far, but National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said more need to come on board for the tool to be truly effective in combating Covid-19.

"In order for TraceTogether to be effective, we need something like three-quarters - if not everyone - of the population to have it. Then we can really use that as an effective contact-tracing tool," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

While the one million downloads are a record for a government app, they translate to about one in six people here having the app. And it is not enough to just download the app, Mr Wong pointed out. People need to turn on their Bluetooth function to ensure the app is running, he added.

The app leverages short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating TraceTogether users in close proximity.

Mr Wong, co-chair of a multi-ministry task force set up to fight the coronavirus, said the app is useful because relying on a person's memory during contact tracing takes time and can lead to lapses.

The app is a better way to track down not just family members and colleagues but others that an infected person has had contact with. "The ability to catch all of the close contacts would be much more comprehensive and faster," he said.

Launched on March 20, the app is able to identify people who have been in close proximity - within 2m for at least 30 minutes - to coronavirus patients using wireless Bluetooth technology, and is especially useful in cases where the infected persons do not personally know everyone whom they had been in close proximity with for an extended duration.

On its website, TraceTogether developers said that keeping the app running all the time will not drain a phone's battery significantly.

The authorities have also stressed that the app collects only the data it needs.

The only data that is collected by the Government through this app is the user's mobile number, which is logged so that the Health Ministry can contact users quickly if they were in close proximity with an infected case.

The app also does not collect or use users' location data, but only records who they might have been close to.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2020, with the headline 'Call for more people to use contact-tracing app'. Print Edition | Subscribe