TraceTogether, SafeEntry to continue until COVID-19 'no longer epidemic': Janil Puthucheary
SINGAPORE: Measures for contact tracing, TraceTogether and SafeEntry, will continue until Singapore authorities are sure that COVID-19 is "no longer epidemic", said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 3).
"We need to wait until we no longer need vaccine-differentiated measures. We need to make sure, wait until we're quite sure that the pandemic and COVID-19 is no longer epidemic, but is endemic," he said.
"And we have not reached that point yet."
Dr Puthucheary was replying to questions in Parliament by Mr Leon Perera (WP - Aljunied) on the continued necessity of TraceTogether and SafeEntry, and what criteria the Ministry of Health (MOH) uses to review these measures, given that there are business costs to compliance.
TraceTogether and SafeEntry continue to play important roles in Singapore's pandemic response system, said Dr Puthucheary, who is also Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information.
They enable verification checks into venues or activities where vaccination-differentiated measures are in force, as well as enable authorities to issue health risk warnings and notices quickly, he added.
A study done in the United Kingdom found that an automated approach to contact tracing "saves lives", he said.
"We have every reason to believe the same is true here in Singapore. The study that was done in the UK, if we extrapolate that approach to our situation here, the estimate is that between September 2021 and January 2022 ... The contact tracing approach that we've taken in Singapore may have saved about 290 deaths and slowed down the progression to avoid about 144,000 cases," said Dr Puthucheary.
He added that it was "a bit too early to tell" when such an approach will no longer be necessary.
To Mr Perera's point about compliance burden, Dr Puthucheary said that this is not unique to TraceTogether and SafeEntry or to COVID-19.
Said Dr Puthucheary: "The use of seat belts is a cost burden, we all do it now after many decades of education because it's proven its worth. So really the issue is whether or not the approach that we're taking has proven its worth. I hope the member will agree that it has."
He said that the easiest, cheapest and "least burdensome" way for businesses for now is to continue with the TraceTogether and SafeEntry systems, rather than put in a new system to achieve the required outcomes.
He added: "We aim to keep rules and requirements simple, and we regularly review the need for these. We will continue to rationalise and simplify our safe management measures."