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Lessons from Singapore: Turning to technology in a bid to speed up contact tracing

Lessons from Singapore: Turning to technology in a bid to speed up contact tracing

As scientists are working around the clock trying to find vaccine and cure of COVID- 19, a respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, tech geeks in Singapore are spending sleepless nights conducting research of their own. Their efforts are already yielding fruits.

On March 20th, Singapore rolled out an app known as TraceTogether. The supplementary tool boosting tracing efforts has proven to be highly effective during the first week of operation.

With the help of the app, the majority of new cases’ contacts are traced. Critics have raised privacy concerns but we have a bigger problem to worry about in my opinion. If technology can help us ease and speed up tracing at the expense of privacy, so be it.

As countries across the world are counting losses, Singapore is extending a helping hand by sharing its invention free of charge. The app is now at our disposal.

Phones with the said app exchange short signals when their users are close to one another. Records of those encounters, including the duration of the encounters, are stored in the devices for 21 days. If the user is diagnosed with the virus, the Ministry of Health can access his/her app’s data and identify close contacts for the previous 21 days.

Addressing privacy concerns, Singapore’s Ministry of Health issued a statement assuring users that TraceTogether doesn’t collect their personal details. "Data logs are stored on phones in encrypted form; Information on close contacts is stored using temporary user IDs powered by cryptographic technology." The statement reads in part.

The extend to which technology will impact the tracing exercise globally remains to be seen. Currently, infected individuals around the world are assisting their respective authorities to the best of their memory in mapping out their movements and interactions prior to being diagnosed.

Singapore’s close proximity to China and the country’s proactive approach led to a prompt reaction to the outbreak of the deadly virus when the rest of the world was still dragging its feet. So far, the city state is doing a commendable job in managing the pandemic. Borrowing a leaf from Singapore can start with the adaptation of their hi-tech surveillance app.

The author is an adventurer whose mission to discover Rwanda’s tourist attractions is suspended until further notice. He is currently staying home for obvious reasons.

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