Singapore to begin nationwide distribution of COVID-19 contact tracing wearables

Bluetooth-enabled TraceTogether Tokens will be issued free to all residents and made mandatory to facilitate check-in procedures at some venues, as the city-state looks to resume more activities, including events with up to 250 participants.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore will begin issuing COVID-19 contact tracing wearables to all residents and introduce additional safety measures as it looks to resume more public activities in the coming weeks. These new measures will include the mandatory use of the TraceTogether Tokens or contact tracing app TraceTogether to facilitate digital check-in procedures at some locations where "higher-risk activities" are held.

A new "Self-Check" service and SMS service will also be rolled out on Thursday to alert people if they have visited the same venues at the same time as COVID-19 cases, said the Health Ministry and Smart Nation and Digital Government Office in a joint statement Wednesday. Both services will be based on data from individuals' SafeEntry check-ins.

The government agencies said the new measures were necessary to support the country's further opening of the economy "by ensuring more effective contact tracing for the community".

To date, its TraceTogether app has topped 2.4 million downloads, accounting for about 40% of the local population. 

An initial batch of 10,000 Bluetooth-enabled TraceTogether Tokens were distributed to the elderly in June, days after the country's plans to introduce the wearables sparked public outcry amongst individuals concerned about their privacy. It prompted the government to reveal that the contact tracing devices did not contain a GPS chip and would not have internet or cellular connectivity, so the data collected could only be extracted when the devices were physically handed over to a health official. 

The government explained that the wearable devices were essential for plugging gaps within the community where, for instance, children or individuals who did not have a smartphone would not be able to download the TraceTogether contact tracing app. It said the TraceTogether Tokens also offered an option for others who preferred to use a separate device to facilitate Singapore's digital contact tracing efforts. 

The wearable devices will be distributed nationwide from September 14, with the government targeting to issue the token for free to all residents by November. The device's battery has an estimated lifespan of six months and will not require any additional charging.

Records of proximity data of close contacts are encrypted and stored locally in the token for up to 25 days. This data can only be accessed by the relevant authorities and only if a user is confirmed to be a COVID-19 case. 

Plans are also underway to further pilot the mandatory use of the TraceTogether app or wearable to facilitate SafeEntry check-ins at selected venues that held higher-risk activities, such as larger-scale business-to-business events. This would be further expanded over time as the distribution of the wearables widened, the Singapore government said. These could include venues such as hotels, which often were used for weddings, F&B outlets, cinemas, gyms, and some workplaces. 

"As such settings have the potential to spark off large outbreaks from a single positive COVID-19 case that spread beyond the activity or venue, the use of TraceTogether can facilitate rapid and comprehensive contact tracing to stem onward spread," the government said. 

SafeEntry is already compulsory at several locations including all workplaces, shopping malls, hotels, schools and educational institutes, healthcare facilities, supermarkets, and hairdressers. Since its launch, the digital check-in system has clocked an average of 9 million check-ins a day and been tapped by more than 2.2 million unique users across 200,000 locations.

The system collects data that can be used to facilitate contact tracing should an individual who visited the location test positive for COVID-19. QR codes are displayed at the entry and exit points of a venue, which visitors must scan and input their name, national identification number, and mobile number. Alternatively, they can use any identification card that carries a barcode such as their driver's licence, work permit, or student pass, which is then scanned by staff stationed at the venue's entry point. 

With the launch of the "Self-Check" service, individuals will be able to refer to their SafeEntry records to check if they have been in close proximity to COVID-19 cases. 

The new SMS notification alerts will also be sent to groups of individuals who were at locations assessed to pose a higher risk of transmission, such as dining places and gyms where people do not wear masks for extended periods of time. Those whose SafeEntry check-in and check-out times overlap with COVID-19 cases in such locations will also receive an SMS alert. 

From October, Singapore will permit bigger exhibitions and conferences comprising up to 250 participants. This will resume on a trial basis, where organisers will have to apply to pilot these meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (MICE). 

The country on Wednesday also confirmed 75 new COVID-19 cases, including 14 that were imported. It has just over 57,160 cases in total and 27 fatalities, with the most recent death recorded on July 14.


(Source: Singapore's Smart Nation and Digital Government Office)


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