Budget debate: Contact tracing process shortened with almost 90% of S'pore residents using TraceTogether

About 4.7 million residents have the TraceTogether app or have collected the TraceTogether tokens. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Close to nine in 10 eligible residents here have joined the Government's digital contact tracing programme, despite a recent public backlash over privacy and trust issues.

About 4.7 million residents have the TraceTogether app or have collected the TraceTogether tokens, and this has allowed the authorities to shave days off the contact tracing process, said Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament on Friday (Feb 26).

With both the TraceTogether and SafeEntry programmes, the authorities now take 1½ days or less to identify and quarantine close contacts of Covid-19 patients, down from the previous average of four days, said Dr Balakrishnan.

This update comes on the heels of a public outcry earlier this year, when it was revealed that TraceTogether data could be used for criminal investigations, despite earlier assurances that the data would be used solely for contact tracing.

The backlash prompted the Government to enact extra laws to restrict the use of TraceTogether data to investigating serious crimes only, and Dr Balakrishnan said in Parliament that he "deeply regrets" the mistake on TraceTogether data.

In Parliament on Friday, Dr Balakrishnan said many of the tech solutions deployed during the crisis, like TraceTogether and SafeEntry, were built by engineers in weeks or even days.

The Government also came up with information portals like MaskGoWhere, SupportGoWhere and FluGoWhere, to disseminate information such as where to get masks and the Public Health Preparedness Clinics residents can visit to treat their respiratory symptoms.

To help businesses, the authorities also created more than 700,000 manpower and workplace applications through the GoBusiness portal, disseminating information such as safe management guidelines.

"The Government was therefore able to continue serving people, providing services online, even during the circuit breaker, and thereby cushioning the social and economic impact of the crisis," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Describing the pandemic as a good "stress test" for the Smart Nation initiative, Dr Balakrishnan added that the nation's achievements were made possible only because of a "relentless recruitment" of talent and in-house engineering capabilities before the crisis hit.

He added that technology will continue to be critical in allowing the safe resumption of daily activities, and the authorities will continue to invest in tech talent and the latest technologies.

"We must now double down on building up our people, building up our capabilities and our agility using the latest cutting-edge technologies," he said.

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