Coronavirus: Contact tracing

Pilot to require check-ins using TraceTogether

This will improve contact tracing, could allow for safer rise in capacity limits

People using the national digital check-in system SafeEntry before entering Clementi Mall. The pilot initiative requiring people to check in using a TraceTogether token or mobile app will supplement SafeEntry check-in data with TraceTogether proximit
People using the national digital check-in system SafeEntry before entering Clementi Mall. The pilot initiative requiring people to check in using a TraceTogether token or mobile app will supplement SafeEntry check-in data with TraceTogether proximity data, which will improve the contact tracing process.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

A pilot programme requiring people to use either the free TraceTogether tokens or mobile app to check in at certain venues will be rolled out next month.

For a start, those attending larger-scale business-to-business events, such as meetings and conferences, will have to use either the TraceTogether tokens or app to log in to the national digital check-in system SafeEntry.

This initiative will be expanded over time, after more tokens have been distributed to the public, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a statement yesterday.

Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said the move supplements SafeEntry check-in data with TraceTogether proximity data, which improves the contact tracing process.

"We're trying to use these digital tools so that we can do (contact tracing) without inconvenience, without being intrusive and to make it seamless and to allow our activities to resume," he added.

MOH said the initiative will help mitigate the risk of large virus clusters forming, and could allow for a safer increase in capacity limits at events and premises, with any potential future easing of measures.

Yesterday's announcement follows an earlier move by the Government to increase the number of participants allowed at exhibitions and conferences to 250.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Group will work with MOH to ensure that these tokens are available on site for people without the app.

The authorities had trialled this at an event at the end of last month which was attended physically by Singapore-based attendees and virtually by international attendees.

Over time, the scheme will be expanded to other venues where there may be close interaction between people, where masks may not be worn at all times due to the type of activities, and where there is high human traffic that is harder to monitor.

These venues would include hotels, food and beverage outlets, cinemas, gyms and certain workplaces - places with the potential to spark off large Covid-19 outbreaks from a single positive case.


The Government will be starting a pilot programme requiring people to use either the TraceTogether tokens or the app to check in at certain venues. PHOTOS: SMART NATION AND DIGITAL GOVERNMENT GROUP, ST FILE

TraceTogether can facilitate rapid and comprehensive contact tracing to stem the spread of the virus, the authorities noted.

 

The programme, which works via the exchange of short-distance Bluetooth signals between tokens or mobile phones with the app installed, has enabled contact tracing teams to reduce the time taken to identify and quarantine a close contact from four days to less than two days, they added.

Said Dr Balakrishnan: "I can't stress enough how important speed is in this process... the probability or the number of people who would be infected is directly related to how quickly we can identify and isolate the person."

The Government is also working with private-sector firms that are interested in supplying contact tracing tokens to companies.

This is to ensure these privately developed tokens and the national TraceTogether token can detect one another and "contribute to a unified contact tracing ecosystem".

 
 
 

Addressing reporters during a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, Dr Balakrishnan noted that the TraceTogether app has been downloaded 2.4 million times.

This accounts for about 40 per cent of the population, but is still insufficient, he said. "Not everyone's app is on all the time. And therein lies the nub of the challenge, because the more people are actively on TraceTogether, exponentially the protective effect increases."

The Government is therefore giving out TraceTogether tokens nationwide to make things more convenient and accessible for people who may not have smartphones or prefer not to use the app.

The distribution will start from next Monday at 20 community centres in Jalan Besar and Tanjong Pagar. Residents can visit the TokenGoWhere website or refer to community notice boards and digital display panels for more information.

Dr Balakrishnan also stressed that privacy will not be compromised. "I need to emphasise that putting together these two functionalities, which is venue and proximity, will still protect the privacy of the person, but it will enhance the level of protection of the people concerned," he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2020, with the headline 'Pilot to require check-ins using TraceTogether'. Print Edition | Subscribe