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Singaporean government explores wearable contact tracing devices, may issue to all residents

The proposal was put forward in Parliament on June 5.

The TraceTogether app. Via Vulcan Post. The TraceTogether app. Via Vulcan Post.

The Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) is exploring a wearable device that may become Singapore’s new method for contact tracing. Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister-in-charge of the SNDGG and minister for foreign affairs, announced this in Parliament on June 5.

While no other information has been revealed about the devices, they may be issued to all Singapore residents if tests show that they function well.

In March, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and Ministry of Health launched the TraceTogether app to ramp up contact tracing efforts.

Using Bluetooth signals to log incidences when users come into proximity with one another, the app’s data can supplement gaps in memory if an infected person has forgotten who they have encountered.

Migrant workers have been required to download and use the latest version of the app. However, only about 1.5 million people in Singapore—or a quarter of the population—have downloaded the app. The ideal proportion of users needed to ensure that the app works effectively is about three-quarters of the population.

Read this: Tracking TraceTogether—Do the ends justify the means?

Dr. Balakrishnan addressed questions about whether the TraceTogether app should be better utilized, such as by educating people who need help with the technology, or making it compulsory for all.

One of the key issues with TraceTogether is that it doesn’t work well on iPhones. Apple’s iOS suspends the function of Bluetooth scanning when the app is running in the background, thus requiring TraceTogether to always be on. Despite “repeated discussions at both the technical and policy level with Apple,” there has not been a satisfactory resolution.

“Because TraceTogether does not work equally well across all smartphones, we have decided therefore, at this point in time, not to mandate a compulsory use of TraceTogether,” said Dr. Balakrishnan.

This article was first published by Vulcan Post.