Coronavirus: Singapore app allows for faster contact tracing

A contact-tracing smartphone has been launched to allow the local authorities to quickly track people who have been exposed to confirmed cases.

Dubbed TraceTogether, the app can identify people who have been within 2m of coronavirus patients for at least 30 minutes, using wireless Bluetooth technology.

“This is especially useful in cases where the infected persons do not know everyone whom they had been in close proximity with for an extended duration,” the app’s developers, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health (MOH), said on its website launched yesterday.

While use of the app is not compulsory, those who use it have to turn on the Bluetooth settings in their phones for tracing to be done.

They also need to enable push notifications and location per-missions in the app, which is available on the Apple App and Google Play stores.

If a user gets infected, MOH will be able to quickly find out which other users he has been in close contact with. This, in turn, allows for easier identification of potential cases and helps curb the spread of the virus.

TraceTogether’s developers said the app is meant to complement contact-tracing methods and allow for the identification of people who were in close pro-ximity with an infected person more efficiently.

There is currently no target for the number of users for the app.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) said yesterday that users have to give explicit consent to participate in TraceTogether and for their mobile number and data to be used for contact tracing.

“When requested by MOH, users can send their TraceTogether logs to facilitate the contact-tracing process. Up to that point, the authorities, including MOH and GovTech, have no knowledge of the user’s TraceTogether data,” said SNDGO.

Official contact tracers will provide a code that users can match with a corresponding verification code on their app. Once authenticated, users will get a PIN that allows data to be submitted.

Contact tracers will also not ask for any personal financial details or request that money be transferred over the phone.

When users are contacted by contact tracers, they will then be asked to share their data logs. If they refuse, they may be prosecuted under the Infectious Diseases Act.

TraceTogether developers said that keeping the app running all the time will not drain a phone’s battery significantly.

The only data that is collected by the Government through this app is the user’s mobile number, which is kept so that the MOH can contact users quickly if they were in close proximity with an infected case.

The app also does not collect or use a user’s location data but only records who they might have been close to.

Similar apps have been said to be successful in helping turn the tide against the coronavirus in some countries.

People in South Korea know quickly when a new coronavirus case is found in their neighbourhood through a government alert sent to their mobile phones that includes details such as the case’s age, gender and travel history.

The country’s efforts have helped it significantly reduce the virus’ spread: Over the past two weeks, the number of new cases being reported daily there has dropped dramatically, from a peak of 909 on Feb 29 to 74 on Monday.


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