SINGAPORE, Dec 11 — More than seven weeks after a 70-per-cent TraceTogether adoption rate was set as one of the requirements before Singapore can move to Phase Three of its reopening after a partial lockdown, the figure now stands at “more than 60 per cent.” 

Providing the update on the digital contact-tracing tool, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) said yesterday in response to TODAY’s queries that it is expecting the collection of the TraceTogether token to “proceed at a steady pace”, as distribution points at more community centres open in the coming weeks.

On October 20, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the governmental task force on Covid-19, first said that the 70-per-cent target was among the requirements before Singapore could go to third phase of reopening its economy, possibly by the end of the year,  At the time, the take-up rate was about 45 per cent.

The other requirements are having sufficient testing capabilities and general compliance with safe distancing measures. 

On Monday, The Straits Times reported that the latest take-up rate was 50.8 per cent and quoted experts saying it was unlikely that Singapore would go to the next phase of its reopening by the end of the year, unless more people downloaded the TraceTogether mobile application or collected the token. 

SNDGG — which comprises the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and the Government Technology Agency — has now clarified that the latest take-up rate is more than 60 per cent of the population. The figure had crossed the 50-per-cent mark as of last month. 

Singapore's total population now stands at about 5.7 million. To get to 70 per cent, more than half a million people more would need to use TraceTogether. 

While it remains anyone’s guess whether the 70-per-cent target could be reached over the next three weeks before the year ends, SNDGG noted that a possible reason for non-adoption was “the general belief that SafeEntry is sufficient”. 

“This may stem from a lack of understanding that TraceTogether and SafeEntry are complementary tools that serve different functions, and by using these digital tools together, we can improve the speed and accuracy of contact tracing,” an SNDGG spokesperson said.

The spokesperson noted that “other commonly cited reasons” include battery drain for the app, and data privacy and security concerns. 

Adding that the SNDGG team has addressed some of these issues, the spokesperson pointed out that running the TraceTogether app only marginally increased the battery consumption on tested phones, particularly those that already are Bluetooth-enabled. For example, on a Samsung Galaxy S6, battery utilisation is 0.03 per cent an hour.

SNDGG also emphasised again that both the TraceTogether app and token are “privacy-preserving by design.”

“No GPS (global positioning system) location is collected, and the devices only exchange encrypted and anonymised Bluetooth signals with other TraceTogether devices nearby.

“The Bluetooth data is also automatically deleted after 25 days, and the data is only requested by the authorities when a user is confirmed to be a Covid-19-positive case.” 

As for how TraceTogether and SafeEntry work differently, TraceTogether helps the Ministry of Health (MOH) identify people who were near to or in close contact with Covid-19 cases during their infectious period, while SafeEntry helps Covid-19 cases remember the places that they have been to so that MOH can spot potential clusters. These two systems work together to increase the speed and accuracy of MOH's contact-tracing efforts.

Why some people have not used it yet

People who have yet to download the app or collect the token told TODAY that they were still not convinced by the need for TraceTogether and believe that the SafeEntry digital check-in-check-out system at venues was sufficient and accorded them relatively more privacy.

Some were also unaware of the benefits of TraceTogether and the rationale of the Government’s push for greater adoption. 

Deepa S, a 24-year-old receptionist, said: “I have not been interested in using TraceTogether ever since finding out that it's bluetooth-based and felt like that was infringing on my privacy.”

She added: “And so far, being out and about, I have had no problems with entries using SafeEntry and haven't seen any place forcing me to use only TraceTogether. I think SafeEntry works great.” 

National serviceman Matt Ng, 20, felt that more could be done to explain the importance of adopting TraceTogether and its functions in a “digestible manner.”

Chan Wai Ying, a 61-year-old housewife, said that she would prefer to use the token instead of the app, but she was unsure where and when to collect the token. “I haven’t seen any posters and they don’t give out flyers, so it makes it hard. For me, I don't know how to go online.”

SNDGG said that residents are encouraged to visit the TokenGoWhere website or look out for posters put up on the community notice boards for updates on the collection period and collection venues near their homes.

Apart from running advertisements to encourage adoption, there is also face-to-face public engagement, the SNDGG spokesperson said. Booths have also been set up in malls “all over Singapore” to reach out to those who need more help.

Smart Nation ambassadors and SG Digital Ambassadors have also been reaching out to merchants to help businesses get ready for TraceTogether-only SafeEntry.

“This will increase the number of locations that accept tokens for check-in, and bring greater convenience to those who prefer to use the token for SafeEntry check-ins,” SNDGG said.

However, student Wee Ern Hao, 24, said that because not all businesses are ready, it would also put off people from using TraceTogether, including those like him who have already downloaded the app or collected the token.

“I've been actively using my TraceTogether token ever since I got it, but I end up using SafeEntry half the time,” he said. “Most restaurants and shops, for example, don't have a scanner prominently displayed, so I don’t know if they can indeed scan the token. So I've ended up using the token for entry into malls, and SafeEntry still for shops and restaurants.”

SNDGG said that at its roadshows, it has observed that some people who have downloaded the TraceTogether app have not completed the registration process, which entails filling up contact details and other information for verification.

“We would like to remind users to complete the registration process to make their effort count towards the TraceTogether programme,” its spokesperson said. —TODAY