SINGAPORE: Singapore has developed a “globally inter-operable” standard based on blockchain technology to facilitate cross-border verification of health documents, such as pre-departure COVID-19 test results, said Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday (Feb 26).
Speaking at the Committee of Supply debate for the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Balakrishnan said that these notarised pre-departure test results will be available on the SingPass mobile app. The Government will also look into extending this to vaccine certificates.
HOW IT WORKS
Known as HealthCerts, this set of open-source digital standards used for the issuing of digital COVID-19 test result certificates is developed by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Being in line with international and local authorities’ requirements, it can smoothen and speed up the process for travellers to clear immigration at local and foreign checkpoints. This will facilitate the resumption of cross-border travel in a safe manner, said the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) in a press release.
From Mar 10, travellers who undergo a pre-departure COVID-19 test at authorised clinics in Singapore will receive their results in the form of a digital certificate that is in line with HealthCerts. This can either be an attachment or a URL link to the digital certificate, according to a factsheet from SNDGG.
Travellers will then have to upload their digital certificates from the clinics to a separate website called Notarise. This system allows locally-issued certificates to be endorsed by the MOH so that they will be recognised at the airport and overseas.
Once successful, travellers will receive a notarised digital pre-departure test certificate containing a QR code via email and/or the SingPass mobile app. According to the frequently asked questions section on the website of Notarise, individuals can expect a response within 12 hours of submission.
At airport and immigration checkpoints, travellers can present the notarised certificate displaying the QR code – either in digital format or in a hard copy – for verification.
By scanning the QR code, airline staff members and immigration authorities will be able to check on the authenticity of the digital certificate through a separate platform developed by GovTech.
This platform, called Verify, will check whether the certificate was tampered with and notarised by MOH, said SNDGG.
As of Feb 24, nine companies have been authorised to work with clinics to issue certificates following the HealthCerts standard, it added.
On extending HealthCerts to digital vaccination certificates, SNDGG said the Government is “closely monitoring” international developments on the use of digital vaccination certifications for travel.
It is in discussions with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and various countries on the mutual recognition of such certifications, but these discussions “will take some time as most countries have only just started vaccinations”, it added.
“The World Health Organisation’s current recommendation is that COVID-19 vaccinations should not be imposed as a condition of entry,” said the SNDGG.
HealthCerts relies on an open-source framework known as OpenAttestation, which uses blockchain to issue cryptographically trustworthy documents that can be verified independently without the need for proprietary software or equipment.
Digital documents issued using the framework are tamper-proof, said the SNDGG.
GovTech has also “opensourced the HealthCerts schema, and the code for the issuance, verification, certificate storage and display modules, which facilitates wider adoption by private sector companies or other governments”.
The private sector can integrate the new digital standard into their verification solutions, said the SNDGG. For instance, the Unifier app developed by Temasek-linked start-up Affinidi, which is working with Singapore Airlines in an ongoing trial, can verify certificates issued according to the HealthCerts standard.
SNDGG also said an individual’s data will remain private as only a hash - or digital fingerprint - of the digital certificate is published to the blockchain upon issuance.
“Only this hash is needed to check the authenticity and validity of the digital certificate,” it added.
“REAL STRESS TEST”
COVID-19 has been a “real stress test” for the Smart Nation initiative, said Dr Balakrishnan in Parliament.
"It has exposed gaps. It has validated our investments over the many years and it has also allowed us to differentiate ourselves and to emerge stronger in a post-COVID world," he added.
“Many of the solutions that we deployed during the crisis were developed by our in-house engineers within GovTech and other public agencies in weeks, sometimes overnight, over days,” he said.
These solutions include the TraceTogether contact tracing programme and SafeEntry system, which have reduced the time taken to identify and quarantine close contacts from an average of four days to less than 1.5 days.
The former now has 4.7 million users, nearly 90 per cent of Singapore residents, said SNDGG in its media release.
Other platforms such as MaskGoWhere and SupportGoWhere, as well as the Gov.sg WhatsApp channel, were developed rapidly. This ability to “provide crucial, accurate information from trusted sources” enabled the country to respond in a coordinated, effective and calm manner, said Dr Balakrishnan.
One-stop portals were also set up to meet specific needs of people and businesses hurt by the pandemic.
These include the COVID-19 Support Grant application portal, where about 98,000 applications have been approved since its launch in May last year.
Meanwhile, more than 700,000 manpower and workplace applications have been made by businesses through the GoBusiness COVID-19 portal.
GoBusiness, which consists of two other portals providing businesses with help on licensing and navigating Government assistance schemes, will get a new feature in April this year.
A new e-service navigator will be launched to provide businesses with easy access to more than 300 Government e-services, announced the minister.
READ: Behind the scenes of a COVID-19 contact tracer’s work, tough cases and how TraceTogether has helped
Dr Balakrishnan also noted that technology will be critical for the safe resumption of people’s daily lives.
Apart from HealthCerts, those eligible for vaccination will be able to book their appointments via the National Appointment System when it is their turn to do so. The public will also be able to view their vaccination records on the HealthHub mobile app.
As of Feb 21, 250,000 people have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to an update from SNDGG.