Singapore further eases access to contact tracing devices

Home delivery service will soon be available for new users of the country's TraceTogether wearable token, which also will be accessible via more vending machines to residents who need to replace the COVID-19 contact tracing device.

Singapore is looking to widen access to its COVID-19 contact tracing wearable device, which soon can be delivered to the homes of new users. Current users of the TraceTogether token also will be able to replace non-working ones via more vending machines. 

A home delivery service would be introduced for new users of the TraceTogether wearable device, as part of "continuous effort to support" the nation's public health requirements, said the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) in a statement Wednesday. 

The government agency said more vending machines to issue replacement tokens also would be deployed progressively at more than 40 shopping malls, particularly those with high traffic, as well as all 108 community centres across the island, in the coming week. 

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It added that manned booths for the collection and replacement of TraceTogether tokens then would be reduced gradually, with such booths in shopping malls to stop operating on August 31. Token counters at community centres would be pulled back at a later date. 

SNDGG said it had worked with Temasek Foundation, which deployed mask dispensing machines, to retrofit these vending machines to include TraceTogether tokens. 

Each vending machine would be able to hold 1,400 tokens and could be used to replace wearables that were out of battery or not working. Specifically, the machine would allow for replacement of tokens only if these were issued at least 60 days ago. 

Deployment of the vending machines was slated to complete by end of October, according to SNDGG.

Singapore's TraceTogether platform, comprising the mobile app and token, currently has a high adoption rate of more than 90%. It is widely used alongside SafeEntry, a digital checkin tool that collects visitors' personal data when they enter venues such as supermarkets, restaurants, shopping malls, and workplaces. 

The government in February 2021 passed a legislation detailing the scope of local law enforcement's access to TraceTogether data. Then move came amidst public outcry when it was revealed the police could access the information for criminal investigations, contradicting previous assertions the data would only be used when the individual tested positive for the coronavirus.

Singapore had issued the TraceTogether wearable device as part of efforts to quell data privacy concerns, touting the token as a "no internet" device that did not have GPS, internet, or cellular connectivity. Data collected only could be extracted when the wearable device was physically handed over to a health official, the government said. 

It also said the use of TraceTogether would cease once the pandemic was under control and contact tracing no longer necessary.

Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative and Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, said last week any decision to stop using the contact tracing platform should be based on "science", not politics. Referring to doctors, the minister said in an interview with Reuters: "Let the professionals tell us whether contact tracing to that level is necessary or helpful, and whether it secures the safety of our people. I will leave it at that. There is no need to politicise it."

In the week leading up to August 24, unlinked cases accounted for 33% of COVID-19 infections in Singapore, up from 25% two weeks before and 23% the week before, according to figures from the Ministry of Health. It recorded 269 community cases in the week leading to August 24, compared to 551 two weeks before and 372 the week before.

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