TraceTogether entry won't be compulsory until token distribution is completed: Janil Puthucheary

The government had not expected the "surge in demand", he said.

Jane Zhang | November 05, 2020, 05:57 PM

The government did not expect such a "surge in demand" for TraceTogether tokens and had anticipated that they would need to persuade more people to get onboard the programme, said Janil Puthucheary on in Parliament on Wednesday (Nov. 4).

The Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information also confirmed that the government will not be making TraceTogether SafeEntry mandatory until after completing the distribution of the tokens to everyone who needs them.

Government was concerned there wouldn't be enough demand

Member of Parliament (MP) Tan Wu Meng asked Janil how many TraceTogether tokens were allocated for distribution at a Clementi Mall pop-up booth on Oct. 25, and what lessons the government had learned from early distribution experiences.

Tan shared that his constituents had told him that within 12 minutes of the TraceTogether token distribution, which was supposed to start at 11am on Oct. 25, the tokens had been fully redeemed.

762 TraceTogether tokens were distributed at Clementi Mall that day, said Janil, and the original plan had been for that booth — and all other pop-up distribution booths — to open for around four hours, from 11am to 3pm.

However, he said, because demand was "very high", the government began distributing tokens early, around 10:30am in the morning, and extended the distribution until 3:30pm.

The government decided early on to set up mobile booths at certain malls around Singapore in order to make it more convenient, as well as to raise awareness and participation, he explained, assuming that Singaporeans without a smartphone may not be as aware, or may need some persuasion.

Response has been heartening

Janil stated that the government had not expected the level of demand, and thought they would need to persuade more people to "come and get onboard the TraceTogether programme."

He continued:

"Actually, we are very heartened by the response. It shows that residents understand the value of this digitally-augmented contact tracing in keeping us all safe.

They are convinced and understand all the various protections we have put in place, and the intent behind this program."

As a result of the "surge in the demand", the government has monitored the situation, and has ramped up production and will adjust the supply of TraceTogether tokens accordingly.

The government also did not anticipate the extent to which people in Singapore would go to other locations to collect the token, he said.

"Hence, we've altered our distribution plan then so that a given [community centre] is distributing tokens only to residents of that area."

He added that the distribution of tokens at mobile booths in malls has been discontinued, in order to avoid queues and to not encourage people to travel across the island to get the tokens.

TraceTogether will not be made compulsory until all tokens distributed

Janil also said that TraceTogether-only SafeEntry processes at venues will only be implemented once everyone has had the chance to collect a token.

Member of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan then asked Janil for clarification on whether that means that TraceTogether entry will no longer be compulsory at cinemas.

It had previously been announced that moviegoers in Singapore would need to use TraceTogether SafeEntry starting on Oct. 26, with a grace period until Nov. 16 for cinema operators to make the transition.

Lim noted that there are a number of people in Singapore, including his constituents in Mountbatten SMC, who are only allocated to collect their tokens almost one month later, on Dec. 14.

Janil responded that the government will ensure that the rollout plan for the TraceTogether token will happen before TraceTogether SafeEntry is made compulsory.

"But once we have given everybody a chance to collect the token, [...] a chance to download the app, then for these higher-risk activities, these higher-risk venues, we need a way to make sure that we can open up and have these activities and yet, protect the progress that we have made in the Covid-19 pandemic fight."

Until the token distribution is completed, he said, other means of doing SafeEntry, such as using your NRIC, will continue to be available at these higher-risk venues.

Totally unrelated but follow and listen to our podcast here

Top photos via Guan Zhen Tan and CNA.