Distribution of TraceTogether tokens starts; aim is for 70% participation in contact tracing scheme

Distribution of the tokens began on Sept 14 at 20 community centres and clubs in Jalan Besar and Tanjong Pagar. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The distribution of TraceTogether tokens to Singaporeans is meant to jolt the participation rate of national Covid-19 contact tracing efforts to get it closer to the Government's target of 70 per cent, said Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan.

But while Dr Balakrishnan does not have a target number of how many tokens will be manufactured and distributed, he said on Monday (Sept 14) that the tokens will work together with the TraceTogether app to achieve this target.

"It's not the number of tokens, it's the participation rate for the TraceTogether programme, because these tokens interoperate with the apps in the phone as well. So I don't have a target for the tokens. What I would like is to get up to about 70 per cent participation rate, and beyond," said Dr Balakrishnan, without specifying a timeline for this.

At present, the TraceTogether app has about 2.4 million downloads, accounting for around 40 per cent of Singapore's population.

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to reporters at Jalan Besar Community Club (CC) on the sidelines of the first day of the nationwide distribution of the TraceTogether tokens.

The first batch of TraceTogether tokens was given out to a select group of 10,000 seniors starting in June.

Dr Balakrishnan had said previously that the present 40 per cent TraceTogether participation rate is not enough as its effectiveness depends on the number of people participating in the programme. The higher the number of TraceTogether users, be it via the app or the token, the more effective contact tracing efforts are.

Responding to further queries about the 70 per cent target, he said that participation depends on making contact tracing accessible.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, noted that while Singapore currently has one of the highest figures of contact tracing participation in the world, the figure can go even higher.

He pointed out that about 5 per cent of Singapore's population do not have access to smartphones and thus would not be able to download the TraceTogether app, which prompted the Government to develop the TraceTogether token.

"The token really is just part of the overall TraceTogether programme. It works exactly the same way. It identifies proximity for Bluetooth technology. It does not track location information, and the data resides encrypted locally within the device," he said.

Distribution of the tokens began on Monday at 20 community centres and clubs in Jalan Besar and Tanjong Pagar.

These areas were chosen because they have a higher proportion of seniors, who are more vulnerable to Covid-19 and may have difficulty using the existing TraceTogether app.

Residents in areas such as Ang Mo Kio, Aljunied, East Coast, Marine Parade and Sengkang are likely to get their tokens between September and October, while those in areas such as Clementi, West Coast, Sembawang and Pasir Ris can expect to get theirs between October and November.

People can also go to any active distribution site if they want to get their tokens earlier. The collection venues and timings are listed on the TokenGoWhere website, and any Singapore resident aged seven and above can get one.

Each token is registered in the user's name, enabling contact tracers to identify people who have been near a confirmed case.

However, users' names, identification numbers and mobile numbers are not captured in the token, and are stored in a separate system.

If a user becomes infected with Covid-19, the device will need to be physically handed over to the authorities to extract the data needed for contact tracing.

TraceTogether, launched on March 20, leverages short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating app users nearby.

Its developers, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health, say the app is useful when those infected cannot recall whom they had been in proximity with for an extended duration.

TraceTogether is among several tech initiatives the Government is using to combat the transmission of Covid-19.

It has also launched SafeEntry, a national digital check-in system that logs the identification numbers and mobile numbers of individuals visiting venues, to aid contact tracing efforts.

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Among the people who were first in line to collect the TraceTogether token on Monday was security officer Ajid Kumar, 66, who had travelled to Jalan Besar CC from his home in Hougang.

Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan (right) speaking to resident Ajid Kumar after he had collected his TraceTogether token at Jalan Besar Community Club on Sept 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

He said he made the journey because he wanted to participate in contact tracing here, but could not figure out how to download the TraceTogether app.

"I don't know how to download the app. I think there is something wrong with my phone, so I thought I would just come here to collect the token to protect myself, especially since it is free," he said.

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