Apps gaining global attention . . .
Singapore and South Korea’s success thus far in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak is due in part to their policy tools, including mobile apps for monitoring citizens. Yesterday, South Korea released the ‘Self-isolation Safety App,’ which collects location data and daily reports on the symptoms of those who are mandated to self-isolate. To aid with contact tracing, Singapore recently released ‘TraceTogether,’ which uses Bluetooth to identify other app users in proximity, thereby allowing government officials to later access these logs with the users’ consent, if the need arises. While both apps have raised concerns about privacy, they have also attracted attention from other countries as potential tools for to combat the pandemic.
Digitally-enabled vs human-enabled . . .
These mobile apps complement mitigation responses rather than replace the work done by human beings. Singapore’s TraceTogether supplements a thorough and staff-intensive contact-tracing process. The country’s Ministry of Health has at least 200 people in its contact-tracing team, backed up by 1,000 members of the armed forces. In South Korea, everyone using the app must input the identification number of a local government official, who monitors them remotely. The installation of the app is also voluntary and many people choose not to install it. Local officials, therefore, must continue to monitor most of South Korea’s self-isolating individuals through daily phone calls.
Apps not a ‘silver bullet’ . . .
As COVID-19 continues to spread in Canada, health officials have taken note of these high-tech measures in Singapore and South Korea. But these apps are not ‘silver bullets.’ Notably, these apps came online after Singapore and South Korea started to flatten the curve. And usage is not widespread: less than 50 per cent of individuals have been required to self-isolate in South Korea, and less than 20 per cent of the total population in Singapore uses TraceTogether. Instead, Canada should note that the keys to success in Singapore and South Korea have been their multi-pronged, whole-of-government strategies.
- CBC: Health officials looking for more high-tech methods to track spread of COVID-19 in Canada
- The Joongang Daily (Korean): COVID-19 self-isolation app launches on March 7
- The University of Melbourne: On the privacy of TraceTogether, the Singaporean COVID-19 contact tracing mobile app, and recommendations for Australia