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Parliament: Demand for TraceTogether tokens higher than Govt expected, says Janil Puthucheary

SINGAPORE – The surge in demand for TraceTogether tokens in October was higher than the Government had expected, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.

He told the House on Wednesday (Nov 4) that the Government had anticipated that it would need to persuade more people to get on board the TraceTogether programme instead.

“The concern at the time was whether or not there would be enough demand, so we wanted to be prudent in terms of the production, (and) launch the process early even as production was ramping up,” he said in response to Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC).

Dr Tan had asked for the number of tokens distributed at a TraceTogether mobile booth in Clementi Mall on Oct 25, as well as what lessons can be drawn from early distribution experiences.

He recounted how his residents said the tokens were out of stock 12 minutes after collection at the mall started at 11am that day.

Dr Janil said 762 tokens were distributed at Clementi Mall on Oct 25 and that “demand was very high”.

The distribution of tokens started in September, and residents could collect it at 38 community centres (CCs) last month. But demand for tokens spiked after the Government announced that TraceTogether would be made mandatory to enter places such as restaurants and shopping malls.

The long queues at certain CCs prompted the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) to halt token distribution, before restarting the process in limited fashion from Oct 29.

Distribution has resumed at Marsiling, Woodgrove and Yew Tee CCs, and will be extended to the remaining CCs from now until December.

Dr Janil said the Government had also not anticipated the extent to which people from all around Singapore would go to various venues in order to collect tokens.

“Hence, we have altered our distribution plan so that a given CC is distributing tokens only to residents of that area,” he added.

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Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) asked if TraceTogether check-ins at cinemas would become compulsory on Nov 16 as previously announced, noting that Mountbatten residents can only start collecting tokens from Dec 14.

He also asked what residents should do in the event their token is damaged or runs out of battery. The token has a six-month battery life.

In response, Dr Janil said compulsory TraceTogether check-ins with the app or token will not come into force anywhere until token distribution has been rolled out to all CCs.

This means the public can continue to use older methods of SafeEntry such as by scanning NRIC bar codes for now.

On replacing damaged tokens or tokens that have exhausted their batteries, he said the Government will give an update closer to the end of the distribution process when it has a clearer idea of demand.

“Will we have a situation in Singapore where we have to think of a replacement plan for one million tokens or two million tokens or whatever the number is in between? (This) may then tell us how many collection points or exchange points (we need),” he added.

Workers’ Party MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) suggested distributing TraceTogether tokens to students in schools before the end of the school term this year, so that parents do not need to queue at CCs to collect them for their children.

He also called for more public education about the TraceTogether app, which performs the same function as the token, in order to reduce queues at CCs. The app – which has drawn complaints about draining phone batteries – should be improved as well so more users are willing to download it, he said.

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In response, Dr Janil said parents have already been collecting tokens at CCs for their children, and that some schools do allow their students to carry smartphones, which means they could use the TraceTogether app.

“I agree with (Mr Giam) that further public education is needed to… reduce misinformation about what the app does,” said Dr Janil, acknowledging that the app has had issues with battery drainage owing to the difficulty in optimising the app for the wide variety of phone models among the public.

“The team is continually improving the app and we have (already) seen a significant improvement in performance.”

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