Singapore is working on a contact tracing method that would involve a portable wearable device that could be distributed to everyone in the country.
The consideration comes as the city-state ruled out the mandatory use of a contact tracing phone app called TraceTogether as a tool to monitor and track the Covid-19 spread in the country, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in parliament on Friday.
“We are developing and will soon roll out a portable wearable device that will achieve the same objective as TraceTogether, but will not depend on possession of a smart phone,” Balakrishnan, who’s also Minister-in-charge of the country’s Smart Nation initiative, said.
“If this portable device works, we may then distribute it to everyone in Singapore. I believe this will be more inclusive, and it will ensure that all of us will be protected,” he said. The minister did not make clear whether or not the wearable device will be mandatory for residents.
Singapore is in the process of easing partial lockdown measures, which shut schools and most offices in early April, and this week entered the first of a three-phase easing. The country has one of the highest reported number of coronavirus infections in Asia with more than 37,000 confirmed cases as of Friday.
Authorities have said that a critical pre-condition for the country to be able to ease measures further within each phase is to have improved capabilities to control and contain any subsequent outbreaks. This involves expanding testing capacity, speeding up contact tracing and ensuring sufficient health care capacity.
“Quick and accurate contact tracing is a necessity,” Balakrishnan said in parliament. “In fact it has become all the more essential now that we are emerging from the circuit breaker.”
Since its launch on March 20, just over a quarter of its population, or 1.5 million of 5.7 million residents, have installed the TraceTogether app, according to Balakrishnan.
TraceTogether doesn’t work as well on iOS or Apple devices since they suspend Bluetooth activity while the app runs in the background. The government has had discussions with Apple Inc. on the issue but has yet to find a satisfactory solution, he said.
“Because TraceTogether does not work equally well across all smartphones, we have decided therefore at this point in time, not to mandate the compulsory use of TraceTogether,” Balakrishnan said.