New contact tracing device and check-in system on trial at worksite

Surbana Jurong is trialling the use of a new contact tracing device and digital check-in system to have more visibility and control over the social encounters of Covid-19 patients to minimise infection spread at worksites.

The move is said to be necessary to avoid contributing to another wave of infections and business shutdowns.

The technology on trial is developed by Temasek Holdings-owned cryptographic technology specialist D’Crypt, and could potentially replace the national contact tracing device TraceTogether Token and digital check-in system SafeEntry at workplaces.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, Mr Wong Heang Fine, group chief executive of urban and infrastructure consultancy firm Surbana, said: “It is important for companies to have total control over the contact tracing process.”

This includes owning the data of people who had been in close contact with a Covid-19 patient and the places the patient had visited so that potentially infected workers can be isolated quickly and targeted areas can be closed off for sanitising without severely disrupting operations.

GovTech, which developed the TraceTogether Token and SafeEntry, does not provide companies with the data it collects, for confidentiality reasons.

The Straits Times understands that the Health Ministry takes about a day to inform companies of the potentially infected individuals. As a precaution, most firms quarantine their entire facility while waiting for the information.

“If I need to quarantine the whole worksite just to be safe, the financial impact will be huge,” said Mr Wong.

The sentiment is shared by ST Engineering, whose 15,000 staff have downloaded its in-house contact tracing app, AGIL Trace.

The app was developed “to address urgent needs for proactive and efficient contact tracing during the Covid-19 pandemic”, said a spokesman.

“When the need arises, data can be extracted and analysed for a faster… identification of close interactions. This allows immediate mitigation efforts to limit the spread of the virus and protect employees.”

Digital tools can quicken the contact tracing process to under two hours, a departure from the tedious process of scanning closed-circuit television footage and interviewing staff to map out who had been in close contact with a Covid-19 patient confirmed by the authorities.

Some 10,000 seniors have received the first batch of TraceTogether Tokens, with the Government planning to issue more to broaden the use of the tool for more effective contact tracing.

So far, the TraceTogether app has been downloaded by about 2.1 million people, short of the three-quarters of the population needed for it to work effectively.

The companies’ contact tracing apps and wearable devices, while limited in scope, can still be effective as they are in sectors where the disease transmission risk is high.

In the construction sector, for instance, workers live in communal spaces and work in close proximity. In other company settings, employees spend most of their time at worksites.

Even though foreign workers are required to download TraceTogether before they can return to work at their respective construction, marine shipyard and process sectors, firms have no immediate visibility of the social encounters of Covid-19-infected workers.

This shortcoming can be overcome if companies buy or create their own contact tracing systems.

Over the past week, Surbana has been trialling D’Crypt’s BluePass and BlueGate technologies at a construction worksite it manages in Tampines.

More than 400 workers have been issued with a BluePass device, which can be worn on the wrist or a lanyard, or put in garment pockets.

Similar to the TraceTogether Token, BluePass uses Bluetooth signal exchanges to log nearby users every five to 10 minutes. Each BluePass token is linked to a contact number and the last four characters of the user’s NRIC, FIN or passport number – all encrypted on the device.

BlueGate is a version of BluePass connected to a power source and set to scanning mode at all times to record check-ins to premises.

But unlike SafeEntry, BluePass does not require people to scan a QR code or fiddle with their mobile phones. It automatically scans nearby BluePass devices and can be programmed to beep when it detects unauthorised entries.

Mr Wong said BlueGate will be useful when separate teams of workers are not allowed to intermingle or enter non-designated areas. BlueGate can also be installed in high-frequency areas such as toilets and pantries where the risk of virus transmission is higher.

He hopes to roll out BlueGate and issue BluePass to some 30,000 workers at the 15 construction sites Surbana currently manages, as early as next month.

Surbana also manages community care facilities at Singapore Expo and Big Box in Jurong for recovering Covid-19 patients – where BluePass and BlueGate will be used.

Other potential uses include Surbana-owned Aetos’ security operations at big events such as air shows or grand prix races.

D’Crypt CEO Antony Ng said that if organisations can take greater ownership of the contact tracing process, they can help to reduce the chances of another circuit breaker.

D’Crypt is in discussions to pilot its technologies in the petroche-mical, medical equipment manufacturing, maritime and construction industries.

“Students can go back to school and economic activities need not be disrupted,” said Dr Ng.

He declined to disclose the pricing of BluePass and BlueGate, but said it will not be “onerous”.

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