Almost all in Singapore are on the Covid-19 TraceTogether contact tracing program

SINGAPORE — Almost everyone in Singapore is now taking part in the nationwide Covid-19 TraceTogether contact tracing program, 21 months after it was launched.

A spokesperson for the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) told the Straits Times on Wednesday (January 19) that almost everyone in Singapore over the age of six participates in the scheme. He did not provide specific numbers.

This comes even as around 3,000 users unsubscribed from the program last year. SNDGO said this represents 0.056% of registered users and these cases include long-stay pass holders who have left Singapore as well as deceased persons.

This also includes those who have requested not to participate for data security reasons.

Vivian Balakrishnan, then minister in charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, said last May that 1,155 TraceTogether users had requested to withdraw from the program.

The TraceTogether program, which identifies people in close contact with a Covid-19 patient via an app or Bluetooth-enabled token, was in the spotlight a year ago when it was revealed that its data could be used for criminal investigations, despite earlier assurances that it would be used only for contact tracing.

Legislation was then enacted to limit the use of contact tracing data to the investigation of seven categories of serious crimes such as murder, terrorism, rape and armed robbery.

When a user unsubscribes, all registration data, including their NRIC and contact number, is deleted from the TraceTogether server within three to five business days.

This means that any Bluetooth data that a person’s device has exchanged with other devices will no longer be associated with it.

Given the growing number of coronavirus cases and the general shift to treating the disease as endemic, some have questioned whether TraceTogether and the national digital registration system SafeEntry are still needed.

Both systems remain important to Singapore’s fight against Covid-19, and they will be retained for now, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.

The Ministry of Health adopted a “comprehensive and aggressive” contact tracing strategy at the start of the pandemic before vaccines became available in order to slow the transmission of the disease, but the approach has changed given the high level vaccination in Singapore.

It now uses these digital tools to automatically perform contact tracing in most cases and focus extensive contact tracing efforts and resources to prevent and control the spread in high-risk settings.

These settings include hospitals, nursing homes and kindergartens, which accommodate potentially vulnerable people such as the elderly or those who are not yet eligible for vaccines.

This type of contact tracing has also been used to slow the spread of the more contagious variant of Omicron Covid-19 here to buy time as authorities work to better understand the disease. This has since ceased as the MOH now better understands the variant, the ministry said.