Singapore’s corona-tracking measures invite both acclaim and controversy

singapore garden by the bay

As the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc around the world, Singapore has garnered praise for flattening the curve of the virus’s spread. The city-state’s success in flattening the curve has been attributed to a number of factors: the swift introduction of border controls, clear communication from the government, aggressive testing and tracing contact with infected individuals. Singapore has been testing its population at a rate of 6,800 per 1 million residents, a rate that outpaces even South Korea.

Now battling a second wave of infections from asymptomatic carriers returning to the city-state, Singapore has turned both to traditional precautions and to technological innovation to curb the virus’s proliferation.

Singapore announced on Tuesday, March 24th, that it is shuttering bars, discos and cinemas until at least April 30th. Malls, museums and restaurants will remain open for the moment, though gatherings of more than 10 people outside work or school, including religious meetings, have been prohibited. A number of Singapore’s coronavirus cases are believed to have originated from a pilgrims’ meeting in Malaysia.

The city-state also recently introduced an app, TraceTogether, which will inform users if they have been in close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus. It’s easy to see how the app could help slow the disease’s spread, allowing authorities to rapidly locate and isolate people who have been exposed to the respiratory illness.

At the same time, the app has courted controversy for personal privacy concerns. The software works by compiling a database of short-range Bluetooth signals, allowing authorities to piece together who COVID-19 positive patients have been within 2 metres of.

Singapore has now made the code for the app available, for free, to developers globally. The Australian federal government has already announced that it has selected the app for a fast-track review, after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Singaporean PM Lee Hsien Loong had a video meeting on how to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear how many countries will be willing to use the app, however, as it would likely violate privacy laws in a number of nations, including the United States.