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Singapore

Covid Tech Review

When Covid-19 hit last year, governments around the world leaned heavily on technology to keep its citizenry safe. A little more than a year has passed and it’s a good juncture to review what the Singapore government did that worked, and which ideas were good attempts at experimentation but ultimately fell by the wayside.

TraceTogether + SafeEntry

TraceTogether lies at the core of our efforts to manage the pandemic. It would greatly speed up the contact tracing capabilities of the government, enabling them to ring-fence and quarantine infectious clusters. At the beginning, physical tokens were distributed at local community centres and neighbourhood hubs as app downloads were initially slow to pick up. The allure of getting a device at no cost drove lines of people to collect their tokens.

Over time the mobile app adoption rose. Although the alternative media sites raised their voices at the privacy snafu, the heightened attention was probably a good thing. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s open and sincere apology went well with the public, and people seemed satisfied that a minister would seemed adequately concerned that he did not communicate that the data gathered could possibly be requested by the police in cases where a person’s life or safety was at risk.

Enabling small businesses, workplaces and religious institutions to set up an automated visitor log through SafeEntry, more than 90% of people in Singapore use TraceTogether as part of their entry and exit routine to any public space.

Communications

Being an government comms alum, I’m definitely biased, but I think the Singapore government did an amazing job providing everyone with timely and useful information. Communications is an absolutely crucial function, and the complexity is baffling. Just imagine the different audiences who would have informational needs. From the employee wondering if it is safe to head back to the office, to families who may need help getting digital devices for their kids to attend school online – the permutations are close to infinite.

Small units were set up, such as CPRO that handled queries from and clarified guidelines for churches, mosques, temples and other religious organisations.

Citizens could receive daily updates on multiple instant messaging or social media platforms:

The Covid-19 Situation dashboard provides more detailed information, such as hospitalisation numbers and number of individuals under Stay Home Notice.

Geo

There were quite a number of geo apps and sites set up, such as MaskGoWhere (so people would know where to pick up their free masks), FluGoWhere (where to get tested if you think you have Covid-19) and Space Out, which tells you which malls are crowded so you can avoid getting caught in a squeeze.

All in all

The government has been consolidating their tech outreach efforts, and it is really heartening to see how things are shaping up. I’m glad to have spent an early part of my career in this space, back when these collaborations were community-driven and scrappy.

GovTech and the wider Singapore dev community have many reasons to be proud. There are still many areas we could improve services, and it looks like the cavalry has arrived.

Categories
Singapore

12 Months On

It’s been more than a year since I last wrote, and it feels like the world remains stuck in this dystopian dream. We continue to speak of how things could go back to “normal”, and some countries have relaxed all restrictions, hoping that the new variants of Covid-19 won’t bypass their vaccination efforts.

We’re slowly re-emerging from our second round of tight safety measures. Dining in for 5 resumes next Monday – a welcome relaxation of the rules, especially for the F&B industry, I’m sure.

We owe a great deal to the many frontliners who have made our lives possible. I’m really glad that we are honouring their hard work and sacrifice this National Day.

Categories
Singapore

A Note of Thanks to our Public Servants

Dear Public Servants of Singapore,

I have had the privilege of working with many of you during my time in the government, and I consider many of you friends. I know that helping the country navigate through Covid-19 has been some of the most back-breaking work anyone could have ever undertaken in their careers. Some of you had to consider a multitude of factors, opinions and possible impact on affected people as you try to draft new legislation to protect our most vulnerable; while others worked on ramping up Covid-testing facilities, making sure the process is dependable and accurate at scale. These are just two of the millions of different duties undertaken by our public service, and you have been working so hard, above and beyond a reasonable call to duty.

I found it really hard to read the announcement that civil servants would receive no bonus this year. I understand the policy and its intent: that civil servants have their pay tied to the economic performance of the nation, and in this time where many Singaporeans suffer economic losses, it is not a time to financially reward civil servants.

But I just wanted to say thanks. It’s not worth much, I know. It won’t put your child through school, or pay for your groceries. Thank you for working so diligently to keep us safe. That we have vegetables and eggs in the supermarket; or good internet access for our work calls; or adequate financial support to keep many small businesses alive. I’m not taking any of these for granted. None of us should. It is the result of the hard work our public servants have put in.

The list goes on and on: whether in healthcare where our sick are taken care of, or how our educators have had to pivot almost immediately to teach online, this generation of public servants have proven, and continue to prove that excellence is the hallmark of Singapore’s public service.

As a Singaporean son, husband and father, thank you so much for all that you do.