Singapore distributes Covid contact-tracing tokens

BBC Technology 14 Sep 2020 10:00
The TraceTogether tokens are an alternative to the government's contact tracing smartphone app.Image copyright Silver Generation Office (SGO)

Singapore has started distributing Bluetooth contact-tracing tokens to its five million residents to help contain the spread of Covid-19.

The tokens, which can be worn on a lanyard or carried, are a hardware version of its existing contact-tracing app which was rolled out in March.

Like the app, they use Bluetooth to look for other users' devices and then log any contact with those devices.

They could be popular with older people who do not use smart phones.

The government also hopes the tokens will help to further reopen the economy, by enabling conferences to restart and providing better tracing in higher risk settings, such as busy hotels, cinemas and gyms.

The initial rollout is happening in areas with a greater concentration of elderly people, who are both at a greater health risk from Covid-19 and less likely to own a smart phone.

Singapore residents currently check-in to shops and office buildings using a separate SafeEntry system, that makes use of QR codes to log users' presence.

Better for privacy?

"I would prefer to use the token over the app," said Bunnie Huang, who lined up for a token on the first day it was available.

The tokens can be carried on a lanyard or in a bag, and don't require a smart phone to run.

The advantage to a hardware-only version, said Mr Huang, is that it makes it impossible for a software update to surreptitiously turn on location data or other sensors without the user noticing.

The token will also help to cover people without a smart phone, and those who have encountered functionality problems with the app, he said.

Apps around the world

Since then, about 2.4 million people have downloaded the app, with about 1.4 million using it in August.

But the Ministry of Health said the program has helped to reduce the time it takes to identify and quarantine close contacts of Covid-19 cases from four days to two.

England and Wales, for example, won't introduce their app until later this month, while Australia has struggled to get any information from the app that it didn't get by regular contact tracing.

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