Singapore hands out coronavirus tracing devices

TraceTogether tokens are an alternative to the government's contact tracking smartphone app.

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Silver Generation Office (SGO)

Singapore has started distributing Bluetooth-enabled contact tracking devices as part of its measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

So-called TraceTogether tokens are an alternative to the government’s contact tracking smartphone app.

They are aimed at people who do not own or prefer not to use a mobile phone.

The device’s announcement was greeted with concern in some areas of privacy.

The first batch of devices is distributed to vulnerable seniors who have little or no family support or have mobility problems.

The tokens have unique QR codes and do not require recharging as they have a battery life of up to nine months.

The devices work by exchanging Bluetooth signals with other nearby TraceTogether tokens or smartphones that run the TraceTogether app.

Users will be notified by a contact tracking officer if they are detected near someone infected with the coronavirus.

If it is then confirmed that they have contracted Covid-19, the data will be downloaded from the device.

Ministers rejected the concerns raised about user privacy, as they claimed they were not designed to mark people’s movements.

The Singapore government has stated that the data collected by the devices will be encrypted and stored in the token for up to 25 days.

The authorities also claimed that data cannot be accessed remotely because the tokens do not have Internet or cellular functionality.

Reopening of the economy

Another feature highlighted by the government is that tokens do not have Global Positioning System (GPS) connectivity, so they do not collect location data.

The Singapore government has said that since it launched its TraceTogether smartphone app in March, it has been downloaded by around 2.1 million people.

Authorities said they must significantly increase participation in the TraceTogether program as Singapore has started to reopen its economy.

Earlier this month, the Singapore government began easing its so-called circuit breaker blocking measures, including the reopening of non-essential retail stores and refreshments allowed at eateries.

The tokens were supplied by a Singapore-based PCI electronics company.

Earlier this month it was announced that the company had won the offer of SGM 6 million (£ 3.5 million; $ 4.3 million) to supply the first 300,000 devices, which was around SGD20 per token.

On Sunday, the authorities reported a total of 213 new infections in Singapore, 11 of which were in the community with the balance in the dormitories of foreign workers. This brought the total number of Covid-19 cases to 43,459.

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