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.


Decreasing purchasing power pushes Turks toward ‘Syrian gold’

An employee displays gold bars at a Korea Gold Exchange shop in Seoul on July 30, 2020. Virus uncertainty combined with China-US tensions has sent gold soaring nearly 30 percent this year. (AFP)
Updated 13 min 51 sec ago

Decreasing purchasing power pushes Turks toward ‘Syrian gold’

  • Economist Umit Kumcuoglu said the increasing use of lower-alloy “Syrian gold” mainly derives from the need to preserve status and tradition, and would not produce a significant impact on the local economy because it was not a counterfeit product

ANKARA: The escalating price of gold in Turkey, in tandem with the global market and the decrease of purchasing power, has led to an influx of lower quality products from Syria.
One, an imitation known as “Syrian gold” due to its popularity with Syrian jewelers, has gone mainstream, having emanated from the jewelry markets of the southern city of Hatay on the Syrian border.
One gram of gold currently costs 437 lira ($62) in Turkey, up by almost two-fifths since January. Having reached near unaffordable levels, the prices have pushed people to turn toward metals with lower values for things such as wedding ceremonies, where pinning 22-karat gold coins and sets of gold jewelry on couples is a Turkish tradition.
Economist Umit Kumcuoglu said the increasing use of lower-alloy “Syrian gold” mainly derives from the need to preserve status and tradition, and would not produce a significant impact on the local economy because it was not a counterfeit product.
“In southeastern tribes, buying gold for wedding ceremonies is an established tradition, and people are inclined to continue this practice amid decreasing purchasing power due to the coronavirus disease outbreak and devaluation conditions in the country,” he told Arab News.
However, according to Kumcuoglu, the ongoing economic challenges, and especially skyrocketing inflation, could push some people to produce counterfeit gold in the future.
Turkey’s central bank became the world’s biggest official-sector buyer of gold in June, according to International Monetary Fund figures. In a bid to support the Turkish lira amid currency concerns, the bank increased its reserves by 890,000 ounces to a record level of 21.28 million in May.
As per the figures published by the World Gold Council, total central bank gold purchases were 139 tons in the first four months of 2020, with the lion’s share of these, 111 tons, coming from Turkey.