The Government Technology Agency (GovTech) has collaborated with the Ministry of Health (MOH) over the past eight weeks to develop a mobile app to buttress the contact tracing process in Singapore.
TraceTogether, launched yesterday (20 Mar), addresses the problem of interviewees being unable to remember all of their contacts or their lack of information on who they have been in contact with, according to government IT initiative Smart Nation Singapore.
The app can be downloaded by anyone with a Singapore mobile number and a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.
TraceTogether works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating users in close proximity.
This facilitates the contact tracing process and enables contact tracers to inform TraceTogether users who are close contacts of COVID-19 cases more quickly.
TraceTogether, according to Smart Nation, empowers users to “take the necessary action sooner, such as monitoring their own health closely for signs of flu-like symptoms”.
“Early detection could potentially help reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and better protect our families and loved ones,” said the initiative.
Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister-in-charge of GovTech, told reporters at a press conference yesterday (20 Mar) that in the contact tracing process, “time matters”, and the introduction of TraceTogether “means that poor memory will no longer slow down the process of contact tracing”.
“The faster the contact tracing process can be initiated and can identify the people at risk, the faster we can intervene and impose quarantine if necessary and limit spread locally,” he added.
Prior to utilising the app, users have to give explicit consent to participate. Consent is also required for their mobile number and TraceTogether data to be used for contact tracing.
This consent is provided during the initial set up of the app. Only the user’s mobile number is required for verification purposes.
No other personal detail, such as the user’s name, is collected. TraceTogether does not collect or use location data of any kind and does not access a user’s phone contact list or address book, according to Smart Nation.
When requested by MOH, users can send their TraceTogether logs — which are stored locally on the user’s phone with encryption — 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. The TraceTogether logs are only deciphered and analysed after the user sends the information.
Smart Nation said that partaking in TraceTogether “is an act of taking individual action that will help us combat the COVID-19 situation as a society, in a similar way as we take steps to maintain personal hygiene”.
“TraceTogether enables each of us to be socially responsible and play a proactive role in helping to contain the spread of the virus in our community through effective contact tracing.
“The Smart Nation and Digital Government Group will be working with the public and private sectors, to raise awareness and encourage adoption of the app,” said Smart Nation.
Those keen on opting in TraceTogether can download the app from Google Play or the App Store, or scan the QR code below.
Those seeking more information on TraceTogether can visit the app’s website here.
Contact tracing is the second out of Singapore’s three lines of defence against COVID-19, with the first being border control and the third being collective social responsibility which includes measures such as social distancing.
The Government at this point is seeking to enforce stricter social distancing measures and may even impose “escalating penalties” to those found to be non-compliant, in the wake of 40 new COVID-19 cases recorded in Singapore on Fri evening (20 Mar).
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chairman of the task force on COVID-19, told a press conference on Fri that requiring the suspension of all events and gatherings with 250 or more attendees at a single time is a part of “a range of very stringent, safe distancing measures” put in place to limit further local transmission of COVID-19.
The new measure is an extension of an earlier one, which called for ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events to be limited to fewer than 250 participants.
Mr Wong yesterday also cited other measures such as enforcing a one-metre minimum distance between people in public places such as queues as well as tables and seats, encouraging employers to allow work-from-home arrangements for their employees when possible, and suspending all group activities for senior citizens for another two weeks.
The Government, said Mr Wong, will not hesitate to resort to “escalating penalties” such as issuing warnings, fines and revocation of licences against errant entities.
“If there is a need, we can also through the Infectious Diseases Act to prosecute egregious cases,” he said.