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.


Vaccine progress lifts stocks, dollar still sickly

Updated 24 November 2020

Vaccine progress lifts stocks, dollar still sickly

  • STOXX index of Europe’s 600 largest firms rises to its highest since February

LONDON: Investors scooped up stocks, commodities and emerging-market currencies and gave the dollar a wide berth as AstraZeneca and Oxford University provided markets with their now-regular Monday shot of encouraging COVID-19 vaccine news.

The STOXX index of Europe’s 600 largest firms rose to its highest since February, Wall Street was pointing up 0.6 percent and Brent futures were nearly 1.5 percent stronger. AstraZeneca and Oxford vaccine, which is set to cost just a few dollars a shot and should be easier to ramp up and store than vaccines by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna, could also be up to 90 percent effective.

As the dollar buckled through a range it has been in for the past few months, the euro touched $1.19, but it was the emerging markets that are likely to benefit from a cheaper and easier-to-store drug that rallied the most.

South Africa’s rand shrugged off a double sovereign credit-rating downgrade over the weekend to add 0.8 percent. Russia’s rouble and Mexican peso both climbed half a percent to bolster their stellar months.

“The combined vaccine news of the last few weeks ... will lead to a much faster pace of normalization to our daily lives compared to what we would have assumed just a few weeks ago,” analysts at Deutsche Bank said.

Markets’ optimism also came after a top official of the US government’s vaccine-development effort said Sunday that the first vaccines there could be given to US health care workers and some others by mid-December.

US shares looked set to mimic gains in Europe and Asia, as Nasdaq futures rose 0.4 percent, Dow futures rose 0.7 percent, and US e-mini futures for the S&P 500 were 0.6 percent higher at 3,576.

The rally also showed investors are willing to look past the grim US case numbers — which topped 12 million over the weekend — and mixed European economic data released on Monday. IHS Markit’s headline flash composite PMI, seen as a good guide to economic health, fell to 45.1 in November from October’s 50.0 — the level separating growth from contraction. A Reuters poll had predicted a shallower dip to 46.1.

The composite future output index jumped to 60.1 from 56.5, its highest since February.

“Today’s vaccine news is positive, but it is only partly responsible for the rally in stock markets,” said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec in London. “(It) is also being driven by the news that the US hopes to start the vaccination program in under three weeks.”