Experts believe S’pore unlikely to enter Phase 3 by end of year due to low TraceTogether adoption rate — yet Govt rolls out insufficient number of tokens

Singapore is unlikely to move into Phase Three of its post-COVID-19 circuit breaker reopening slated to take place by the end of this year, as the TraceTogether programme has yet to achieve its targeted participation rate of about 70 per cent, according to experts.

Members of the public will no longer be able to gain entry at popular venues by scanning SafeEntry QR codes with their phone cameras or through the SingPass mobile app or barcodes on their NRIC.

Instead, they will have to use the TraceTogether app to scan the venue’s QR code or allow entry staff to scan the QR code on their TraceTogether token.

This is despite assurance from Vivian Balakrishnan — Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation initiative — that the use of the contact tracing app or token will not be made “mandatory” by the government.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the COVID-19 taskforce, said in October that having 70 per cent of Singapore’s population adopt the TraceTogether app or token is one of the conditions that must be met for the nation to enter Phase Three.

“When we have both a higher take-up rate of TT [TraceTogether] and wider deployment of TT-only SafeEntry, and community transmission throughout this period remains low, then there is a good chance of us entering phase three by the end of the year,” he said in a press conference.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office, however, stated that only about 2.9 million people — just a little over 50 per cent of the population — have downloaded the app or collected the token so far.

Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, told The Straits Times on Monday (7 December): “One of the targets set has been for sufficient numbers of people to have TraceTogether as more effective contact tracing will counter the relaxation in rules. I think we’re not yet at that target, and that may hold us back from advancing a phase.”

Concurring with Assoc Prof Cook’s statement, Teo Yik Ying — dean of the school — said that adoption of the app or token is still lagging.

“At present, it appears we will not be moving to Phase Three by the end of the year as it appears that token distribution has not achieved a complete coverage of the entire population,” Prof Teo remarked.

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan urges public not to rush as TraceTogether token demand spikes

Though experts pointed out the need to achieve the minimum required adoption rate of TraceTogether programme for Singapore to move to Phase Three, it remains a question as to whether there will be enough TraceTogether tokens for everyone to have.

The distribution of tokens kicked off in September at 38 community centres (CCs) across the country.

Tokens were meant to be given to those who do not have a smartphone to install the app, particularly children and the elderly.

However, it was reported that TraceTogether tokens demand had spiked right after the government announced that TraceTogether use will be made mandatory to gain entry at public venues.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Group had to temporarily suspend token distributions due to the long queues formed at certain CCs, before resuming on 29 October with one constituency at a time to “better match demand”.

Commenting on the high demand of token, Dr Balakrishnan urged the public not to rush and assured that there would be more than enough tokens to be distributed.

“We will adjust the numbers supplied to meet the demand, obviously, and our contracts allow us to make those necessary adjustments,” he remarked.

Dr Balakrishnan disclosed that while the current target number of tokens to be produced is about 2.7 million, this number can be adjusted in accordance with demand.

“I would also make the assurance that the implementation of the TraceTogether-only Safe Entry programme will not proceed until we make sure that everyone has access to either a token or the app and is comfortable using it,” the Minister added.

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