The brilliant, high tech way coronavirus contact tracing works in Singapore


One of the biggest complaints of the NHS’ coronavirus track and trace tool is that you need an up-to-date smart phone app to use it.

And that poses a dilemma for many – such as the elderly, the less tech savvy and those who don’t carry a smart phone at all.

But as scores of nations scramble to develop an effective method for stemming the spread of the virus, one country has already launched a solution which doesn’t require any technical prowess.

Singapore’s five million residents will soon have access to a Bluetooth “token”, a wearable piece of technology that tracks whether you’ve come into contact with someone battling coronavirus.

It comes after the country became the first to launch a Covid-19 app in March called TraceTogether. It was downloaded over 2.4 million times – equal to roughly 40% of the population.

But realising the tracing system still needed higher uptake to be successful, the wearable token was created to be a hardware version of the app, ideal for older people and those without a smartphone.

How does it work?

The device, called the TraceTogether token, can be worn on a lanyard or easily tossed into a bag – but its success relies on users remembering to take it with them when they leave home.

It works by exchanging Bluetooth signals with other tokens, or mobile phones running the TraceTogether app nearby.

When it does this, the data of close contacts is encrypted on the device and stored in the token for up to 25 days in case a contact tests positive for the virus.

A user is contacted for the data from their device only if they are confirmed to be infected with Covid-19.

It this occurs, all people who were close contacts of the infected person are alerted by the Ministry of Health contact tracing team and advised on next steps.

It’s also designed to be hassle-free. A battery charge last anywhere from six to nine months, meaning users don’t need to worry about charging it up before leaving home.

Who is using it?

The first batch of tokens was distributed to 10,000 vulnerable seniors in Singapore at the end of June.

In a survey conducted by the country’s Silver Generation Office, close to 90% of the recipients found it convenient to carry the token with them when they leave home, and more than 70% said they would bring the token out with them most of the time.

Following the promising early adoption figures, the government now plans to make the token available to all citizens for free by November.

Governments around the world have been scrambling to create effective tracing systems, as cases of the virus continues to rise.

But many have seen low uptake rates – rendering them generally ineffective.

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