Singapore plans wearable virus contact tracing device for all

Singaporeans expect to receive contact-tracing technology. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 June 2020

Singapore plans wearable virus contact tracing device for all

  • The small device can be worn on the end of a lanyard or carried in a handbag

SINGAPORE: Singapore plans to give a wearable device that will identify people who had interacted with carriers of coronavirus to all of its 5.7 million residents, in what could become one of the most comprehensive contact tracing efforts globally.

The small device, which can be worn on the end of a lanyard or carried in a handbag, follows glitches with an earlier smartphone-based bluetooth system which limited take up of the technology.

Singapore, a tiny city-state with one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in Asia, is one of many countries trying to develop technology that will allow them to exit lockdowns and safely restart their economies.

“We are developing and will soon roll out a portable wearable device that will ... not depend on possession of a smartphone,” said Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister in charge of the city-state’s smart nation initiative said on Friday.

“If this portable device works, we may then distribute it to everyone in Singapore.”

The government did not specify whether carrying the device would be mandatory.

The government’s earlier TraceTogether app was downloaded by around 1.5 million users, but has encountered problems especially on Apple devices where its operating system suspends Bluetooth scanning when the app runs in the background.

“We’ve had repeated discussions both at the technical and policy level with Apple, but we have not yet been able to find a satisfactory solution,” Balakrishnan said.

The pivot to wearables is a signal that Singapore has no immediate plans to adopt contact tracing technology from Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google rolled out last month, which has several restrictions designed to protect users’ privacy.

Singapore has not provided details on the technology that will be used in the new wearable devices.

But analysts say the new technology could face similar adoption challenges to its predecessor.

“The government would likely have to mandate the use of such a device for the system to work, which is something that few countries have done so far,” said Frederic Giron, a Singapore-based analyst with market research firm Forrester.

Many experts have raised privacy concerns about contact tracing devices. Singapore has said data collected though its earlier app is encrypted and stored locally in the user’s phone, and will only be transferred to authorities if the individual is confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.


Turkey on brink of recession as economy collapses

Updated 13 August 2020

Turkey on brink of recession as economy collapses

  • Consumer debt has increased by 25 percent to more than $100 billion in the past three months

JEDDAH: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity is plunging in lockstep with Turkey’s collapsing economy and the country is on the verge of a potentially devastating recession, financial experts have told Arab News.
The value of the Turkish lira has fallen to 7.30 against the US dollar and the central bank has spent $65 billion to prop up the currency, according to the US investment bank Goldman Sachs.
Consumer debt has increased by 25 percent to more than $100 billion in the past three months as the government moved to help families during the coronavirus pandemic, but the result has been a surge in inflation to 12 percent.
With the falling lira and increased price of imported goods, the living standards of many Turks who earn in lira but have dollar debts have fallen sharply.
The economy is expected to shrink by about 4 percent this year. The official unemployment rate remains at 12.8 percent because layoffs are banned, although many experts say the real figures are far higher.
To complete the perfect storm, tourism revenues and exports have been decimated by the pandemic, and foreign capital has fled amid fears over economic trends and the independence of the central bank.
Wolfango Piccoli, of Teneo Intelligence in London, said logic dictated an increase in interest rates but “this is unlikely to happen.”
Piccoli said central bank officials would strive to avoid an outright rate hike at their monetary policy meeting on Aug. 20. “A mix of controlled devaluation and backdoor policies, such as limiting Turkish lira’s liquidity, remains their preferred approach,” he said.
There is speculation of snap elections, and Erdogan’s view is that higher interest rates cause inflation, despite considerable economic evidence to the contrary.