MTF to review TraceTogether and ‘stand it down’ when no longer needed: Ong Ye Kung

The TraceTogether app (left) and token (right). (PHOTOS: Getty Images / Reuters)
The TraceTogether app (left) and token (right). (PHOTOS: Getty Images / Reuters)

SINGAPORE — The multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) on COVID-19 will review the relevance of the TraceTogether application and “stand it down” when it is no longer needed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday (4 April).

But the MTF will maintain the capability to restart TraceTogether if Singapore were to encounter a more dangerous variant of concern, added Ong, who was speaking in Parliament.

“The costs and benefits of TraceTogether change as we make further progress in living with COVID-19.”

Ong was replying to several parliamentary questions on Singapore’s safe management measures (SMMs) amid an easing of the Omicron variant wave.

The Ministry of Health no longer relies on TraceTogether for contact tracing for the general public, Ong said. Cases who self-test positive and go on the Protocol 2 do not upload their TraceTogether data and they should be responsible and inform their contacts to self monitor, he added.

“So there's really no need to compare the data between self-reporting and TraceTogether because having vaccinated the vast majority of our population, and being determined to live with COVID-19, we have passed that stage of the pandemic where we contact trace every case.”

Nonetheless, agencies that look after more vulnerable sectors, such as schools or preschools, continue to use TraceTogether for contact tracing. The combined statistics generated by TraceTogether and the SafeEntry system can give a good idea of the settings that are more susceptible to transmission of the COVID-19 virus, according to Ong.

The MTF will also consider further easing of the SMMs including a review of the distancing rules between tables in food and beverage (F&B) settings.

“The whole MTF is aware that one metre versus 80 cm makes a huge difference to the F&B establishment. It also makes a huge difference in terms of transmission. So we have to weigh the costs and benefits,” Ong said.

On SafeEntry and vaccination-differentiated SMMs (VDS), Ong said the two issues are closely related. If the MTF were to do away with VDS, there is no need for Safe Entry but VDS is still needed for now, he added.

While the Omicron variant is less severe than Delta, unvaccinated or non-fully vaccinated persons are more likely to fall very ill if they are infected. About 3.5 per cent of the adult population are not fully vaccinated, but they account for over a fifth of cases that require care in intensive care units or deaths from COVID, Ong said.

While the patient load at public hospitals has eased, hospitals are still very busy amid the easing of SMMs. For now, it is prudent to keep VDS and not risk having more non-fully vaccinated patients getting infected and needing hospital care, Ong said.

“So make no mistake, (for) individuals who chose not to be vaccinated, they impose a cost, sometimes a significant one, to our hospitals in terms of workload, businesses in operating Safe Entry checks, and enforcement agencies in conducting checks.”

When the situation in hospitals is stable and improving, the MTF will review the VDS and consider whether to reduce the number of settings or remove it completely, Ong said.

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