More than 4.2 million people, or about 78 per cent of residents here, are now using TraceTogether, Education Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament yesterday.
Of these people, about two million use only the TraceTogether phone app. But there has been strong demand for the tokens, and community centres that had run out of them are set to resume distribution soon, he added.
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force in charge of tackling the Covid-19 crisis, said the Government had initially not expected such a strong demand for the tokens, given that people can download the app.
Responding to MPs' questions about the TraceTogether programme, he also said there were some delays in the manufacturing schedule, which caused a delay in the distribution of tokens.
Mr Wong reiterated that after all residents who need a token have one, TraceTogether will have to be used at all SafeEntry checkpoints, either via the token or the app.
"We will give further information on this once the details and timelines are firmed up, and will provide adequate advance notice to all the affected establishments, so they can gear up and prepare," he said. Mr Wong added that the tokens will be distributed to school students who have not yet collected them.
Distribution of the tokens started last September at 38 community centres, but some venues ran out of stock after demand spiked, following the announcement that TraceTogether would be made mandatory to enter places such as restaurants and shopping malls.
Yesterday, Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) expressed dismay that even those who have downloaded the app are collecting the tokens, lamenting that it is "really quite a waste of resources".
He called on fellow MPs to encourage residents who already have the app to use it instead.
Thanking Mr Lim for making a plug for the app, Mr Wong said the Government will try to make the app more useful, with more features to encourage its use.
"But to the extent that Singaporeans want to collect the tokens, I think we do want to make them available, reduce any anxieties associated with the roll-out of TraceTogether-only SafeEntry, and that's why we are doing this one-time distribution," he added.
TraceTogether and SafeEntry will continue to be a key part of contact tracing operations as the country moves into phase three of its reopening, he said.
Asked by Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) if the cost of developing the tokens is justified, Mr Wong said that of the $10 million spent to date, "the results speak for themselves - TraceTogether has stopped the transmission of the virus in many instances, and has helped save many lives. So I have no doubt about the cost-effectiveness of this programme".
Previously, it took contact tracers two days to interview an infected person before they could establish his close contacts. Now they can rely on TraceTogether data and it takes only hours.
Mr Dennis Tan (Hougang) had asked if it would have cost less to issue rechargeable tokens instead of the current ones that go flat after about six months.
Mr Wong said that given the need to roll out the tokens quickly, the Government had chosen the current design, which uses off-the-shelf components and requires less complexity, time and costs to make. He added that some of the tokens will have to be replaced, but some will need to have only their batteries replaced, and a process will be put in place for people to do so easily.
All the associated costs had been considered, he said, adding: "Overall, we still think that this approach, given the circumstances, given the urgency of rolling out the tokens, was a better approach."