Former NCMP Yee Jenn Jong supports Gerald Giam’s call to adopt Apple-Google contact tracing system, says modifying TraceTogether app is much faster and cheaper

The centralised approach would give the Government “better control”, but modifying the TraceTogether app would be “much faster” and “far cheaper”, said former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) and Workers’ Party (WP) politician Yee Jenn Jong on Tuesday (16 June).

Previously on 14 June, former NCMP and WP’s politician Gerald Giam explained in a blog post why the Government should adopt the Apple-Google’s Exposure Notifications system in the TraceTogether app instead of issuing wearable devices that will cost about S$110 million in total.

According to Mr Giam, the system will enable the app to run effectively on all smartphones, maximise adoption, protect privacy, enable cross-border interoperability, and become “a real weapon” in battling against the COVID-19.

He added that the system uses a decentralised report processing protocol in which the user data is not stored in a central server and the matching of COVID-19 positive cases is solely done on users’ devices.

In response to Mr Giam’s suggestion, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan stated that the Exposure Notification system is less effective in the local context, adding that the ‘graph’ would not be available to the contact tracers.

“Although a potential close contact would be notified by the system, there would be no way to identify how, when and whom the person was infected by or passed the infection to,” said the Minister.

Former NCMP Yee Jenn Jong, on the other hand, concurred with Mr Giam’s opinion, despite noting that both of them have raised some “fair points”.

“As with many options, there are pros and cons. I support Gerald’s call to look more closely at the decentralised approach,” Mr Yee wrote on his Facebook earlier today.

The WP’s member stated that creating proprietary hardware is “always a challenge” as it is costly, adding that its maintenance is expensive and the deployment is “cumbersome”.

Thus, Mr Yee asserted that modifying the TraceTogether app would be “much faster” and “far cheaper” to implement. As for the limitations that the Exposure Notifications system has, he suggested finding workaround solutions to it.

“More recent phones should be compatible with the Exposure Notifications System supported by global tech giants Google and Apple. We only need to figure hardware for those who do not have smartphones or whose smartphones are not compatible,” he added.

Mr Yee went on to say that although the centralised approach would give the Government “better control”, it will only work if all households are quick to get hold of the device and actually wear them. Another factor worth taking considering is the reliability of the device in terms of maintenance issues.

“All of us need to carry one additional device when we go out – even if we do want to, sometimes we forget or leave it in the car or forget to take back from office, or lose it. It is also going to be very costly and very slow to produce and deploy,” he noted.

Besides that, Mr Yee highlighted that the Government will also need to think about the returning travellers as it began reopening Singapore’s borders for international travellers in Phase Two.

“How soon can we roll out the massive deployment for all residents and all international travellers? It can be a big logistical and implementation challenge,” he asked.

Noting that 22 countries have adopted the system, Mr Yee cited Germany’s decision to follow the similar decentralised structure and “abandoned their home-grown” contact tracing app after it experienced problem in Apple’s operating system – which also happened to TraceTogether app.

“We are looking at high tech countries switching over to this but Singapore is resisting,” he remarked.

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