‘Too early’ to say when TraceTogether, SafeEntry can be phased out: Janil Puthucheary

·Senior Editor
·3-min read
SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel
SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel

SINGAPORE — It is "a bit too early to tell" when the use of TraceTogether (TT) and SafeEntry (SE) can be phased out, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary in Parliament on Thursday (3 March).

"We need to wait until we're quite sure that the pandemic and COVID-19 is no longer epidemic, but is endemic. And we have not reached that point yet, very hard to say with some degree of certainty what that date will be," said Dr Puthucheary, who stressed that TT and SE continue to play important roles in the pandemic response system.

The SMS told the House that as long as vaccination-differentiated measures are needed, the easiest, least burdensome and cheapest way for businesses to roll out these measures is to continue with TT and SE, rather than "standing up a whole new system and a whole new infrastructure" in order to get those outcomes.

Dr Puthucheary compared TT and SE to the use of seatbelts, which is also a cost burden but which has proven its worth. "I hope the Member will agree that the ability to save lives, prevent morbidity and mortality through this disease is... (a) beneficial outcome and it's worth paying that compliance cost and compliance burden for."

He also claimed that Singapore's contact tracing approach, which includes the use of the national contract tracing technology and check-in system, may have saved about 290 lives and prevented about 144,000 COVID cases in a five-month period. This is based on an approach extrapolated from a study in the United Kingdom and applied to similar datasets in the period between September 2021 and January 2022.

Dr Puthucheary was responding to a supplementary question from Aljunied Member of Parliament Leon Perera, who had asked what criteria the Ministry of Health (MOH) would apply in phasing out TT and SE, given the heavy compliance burden. Perera had earlier asked if MOH conducts reviews on the necessity of TT and SE, and what metrics it considers when doing so.

In use since 2020

Under prevailing COVID curbs, only fully-vaccinated individuals – which includes taking a booster shot – may enter venues such as hawker centres, shopping malls and cinemas. Authorities have said this is necessary to protect unvaccinated persons who remain at higher risk of severe disease.

According to official figures, more than 86 per cent of the population have received at least two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine.

TT, which has been in use since March 2020, facilitates contact tracing and is also used to verify one's vaccination status. Its use for check-in to various venues has been mandatory since May 2021. SE was first implemented in April 2020.

Controversy ensued in February 2021 when it was revealed that the police are empowered to obtain TraceTogether data for use in criminal investigations, despite Vivian Balakrishnan's (formerly Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative) promise in June 2020 that TT would only be used for contract tracing, "period".

Last November, director of medical services Kenneth Mak said that health authorities are no longer taking a "blunderbuss" approach to contact tracing. It is now focused on settings such as hospitals and nursing homes where vulnerable people may have been exposed to the risk of transmission.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting