Singapore turns to businesses to bolster contact tracing efforts

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Singapore has rolled out a new digital check-in system to boost its contact tracing efforts and stem the spread of COVID-19, making it mandatory at certain locations across the island. The move comes weeks after the launch of a contact tracing app that has since garnered more than 1.4 million downloads, but well below the government’s hope to reach three quarters of the local population. 

Called SafeEntry, the digital check-in system collects data that can be used to facilitate contact tracing should an individual who visited the location be tested for COVID-19. QR codes are displayed at the entry and exit points of a venue, which visitors must scan and input their name, national identification number, and mobile number. Alternatively, they can use any identification card that carries a barcode such as their driver’s licence, work permit, or student pass, which then is scanned by staff stationed at the venue’s entry point. 

To date, the check-in system already has been deployed at more than 16,000 sites island-wide. 

Developed by Government Technology Agency (GovTech), SafeEntry must be deployed at selected locations from May 12 — a move the Singapore government deemed necessary to track individuals at places where they were likely to be in close proximity for prolonged periods, in enclosed spaces, or where there was high human traffic. 

The list of places where SafeEntry is mandatory currently includes all workplaces, shopping malls, hotels, schools and educational institutes, healthcare facilities, supermarkets, and hairdressers. The digital check-in system also will be extended to include taxis.

And while food and beverage outlets, for now, are not required to deploy SafeEntry for customers since they are open only delivery and takeaway, these premises still must implement SafeEntry for employees as is required of all workplaces.

The list of businesses and venus that must deploy SafeEntry will be updated as more activities and services are resumed, according to the Ministry of Health. 

Elaborating on the move, the ministry said in a statement Saturday that COVID-19 infections in the local community had been found outside households, where the majority of cases surfaced in workplace interactions. Apart from adopting safe distancing measures, the ministry underscored the importance of enhancing contract tracing efforts through the use of technology to stem the spread of the virus. 

“Employees and visitors should check-in and check-out of workplaces and other venues using SafeEntry to help our contact tracers establish cluster links and transmission chains,” said the Health Ministry. “It is important that everyone plays their part and uses SafeEntry, so that we can collectively prevent new clusters from forming.”

According to the Singapore government, data collected by SafeEntry is only used by authorised personnel for contact tracing purposes. “Stringent measures are in place to safeguard the data in accordance with the government’s data security standards,” it said. 

The introduction of the digital check-in system follows the launch of the country’s contact tracing app, TraceTogether, in April. The app taps Bluetooth signals to detect other participating mobile devices in close proximity to allow them to identify those who have been in close contact when needed. 

Also developed by GovTech, TraceTogether estimates the distance between smartphones as well as the duration of such interactions. It identifies participating TraceTogether users who are within 2 metres of each other for more than 30 minutes. The data then is captured, encrypted, and stored locally on the user’s phone for 21 days, which spans the incubation period of the virus. 

To date, more than 1.4 million have downloaded TraceTogether, but this figure is far from the government’s hope to reach at least three quarters of the location population of some 5.8 million. Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong, had said that targeted number was necessary for TraceTogether to be effective. 

Singapore has turned to technology to help its efforts in containing COVID-19, including the use of robots to issue reminders for residents to observe safe distancing as well as drones to establish crowd density. 

The country has seen a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, which currently totals more than 23,300 with a death toll of 20.

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