Singapore opts for countrywide wearables for COVID-19 tracing: Reuters

If a person tests positive for COVID-19, those data could be used to trace back interactions and alert people that they may have been exposed to the disease. The wearable devices would not need to depend on smartphones. (Getty Images)

The city-state of Singapore is planning to outfit each of its 5.7 million residents with a simple wearable device to track people who have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, according to Reuters.

The massive digital contract-tracing effort, involving small devices that would fit in pockets or be attached to lanyards, would follow up on a previous program built on smartphones and apps as the country aims to loosen its lockdown rules, the report said.

Singapore currently faces over 37,000 confirmed infections of COVID-19 and has had 24 deaths. The smaller territory has a larger number of cases compared to its Southeast Asia neighbors, including Indonesia’s 29,500, the Philippines' 20,600 and Malaysia’s 8,200, according to international data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

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The technology would be similar in concept to programs rolled out late last month by Apple and Google, which rely on a smartphone’s Bluetooth radio to ping nearby devices and record when they have been in somewhat close physical contact. 

If a person tests positive for COVID-19, that data could be used to trace back interactions and alert people that they may have been exposed to the disease. The wearable devices, however, would not need to depend on smartphones. 

According to Reuters, Singapore’s previous TraceTogether app was found to be less effective, as smartphones would turn off the Bluetooth radio to save power while the app ran in the background. 

The country’s government did not say if the new wearables would be mandatory, the report said. Other governments, such as in Hong Kong and Bahrain, have used similar devices for monitoring people under quarantine.

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