TraceTogether: A Bluetooth app to speed up COVID-19 contact tracing

As governments around the world look for ways to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase “flattening the curve” has been thrown about quite a bit. Essentially, efforts are being made to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and many countries are already in a state of restricted movement—including Malaysia. Now, our neighbour to the south, Singapore, has developed a new app that will help health authorities with contact tracing: TraceTogether.

The app, a collaborative effort between the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health in Singapore, will work with any smartphone with Bluetooth support; only those with a Singapore mobile number are eligible. Users of the app will “proactively help” authorities with contact tracing via Bluetooth and location technologies.

How does it work?

TraceTogether basically works by detecting (and communicating) via short-distance Bluetooth signals with other phones in close vicinity. This means that encounters with those that are potentially infected with COVID-19 are then recorded; it’s worth noting that the data is not sent to the authorities. Instead, the information is stored locally in your smartphone.

When/if the MOH contacts users for contact tracing, these records are then required to be shared with the authorities.

“This enables users to take the necessary action sooner, such as monitoring his own health closely for signs of flu-like symptoms. Early detection could potentially help reduce the risk of the spread of the virus, and better protect our families and loved ones.”

Essentially, TraceTogether is a way for the authorities to speed up the contact tracing process without having to rely on the memory of those questioned. Now, the entire process can be done “more quickly”, and over 600,000 users have already downloaded the app.

“The process of contact tracing starts with a recall … and that is the only thing that this app intervenes with. It means that poor memory will no longer slow down the process of contact tracing.”

“The faster the contact tracing process can be initiated and can identify the people at risk, the faster we can intervene and impose quarantine if necessary and limit spread locally.”

– Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister-in-charge of GovTech

If are in Singapore and you want to download the app, both iOS and Android versions are available on the App Store and Play Store respectively. For now, we don’t have an equivalent in Malaysia—the nation remains in a state of restricted movement after the Prime Minister of Malaysia declared a movement control order from the 18th till the 31st of March 2020.

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As of 1pm, 22nd of March, 307,105 cases have been confirmed around the world across 168 countries, with 1,183 confirmed cases in Malaysia (9 deaths). In Singapore, 432 cases have been confirmed by authorities, with 2 deaths confirmed.

To find out more about TraceTogether, click here.