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.
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:
- Gov.sg WhatsApp, available in 4 official languages
- Gov.sg Telegram
- Gov.sg Facebook
- Gov.sg Twitter
- Gov.sg Instagram
- Gov.sg YouTube
- Gov.sg TikTok
The Covid-19 Situation dashboard provides more detailed information, such as hospitalisation numbers and number of individuals under Stay Home Notice.
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.