Tech preparedness gave Singapore head start when Covid-19 struck

This article is more than 12 months old

Singapore's technology preparedness gave the Republic "a head start" in responding to acute needs when the Covid-19 pandemic erupted earlier this year, said Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan.

"We were starting, fortunately, from a position of strength and preparation," he said in an interview with The Straits Times.

Indeed, Hong Kong-based Deep Knowledge Group's survey of 200 countries and territories released earlier this month ranked Singapore the fourth safest places in the world to live in during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country trailed only Switzerland, Germany and Israel in the survey that looked at quarantine efficiency, monitoring and detection, as well as emergency preparedness.

Singapore owes its current readiness to groundwork that started six years ago with the rollout of smart nation plans.

This led to the Government forming its own crack team of data scientists, software coders and engineers, which has now grown to 950 people.

They bang out codes and design solutions to address Singapore's needs.

Most recently, they created an information website in just one day and launched it on Feb 1 to allow residents to enter their postal code to check the nearest collection point for the free masks the Government was distributing.

Singapore was also the first in the world to roll out an app to reduce the tracking time of potentially infected individuals who had come in close contact with a Covid-19 patient.

Launched in March, the app called TraceTogether, which uses Bluetooth radio exchanges to log nearby users, was developed in about two months by Government Technology Agency engineers.

Singapore's decade-ago investments to bring fibre broadband links to every home have also paid off when employees and students have to work and learn from home to manage the spread of Covid-19.

The 2017 launch of PayNow - an instant fund transfer service that maps mobile phone or NRIC numbers to bank account numbers for funds to be credited - provided the platform for payments to go cashless when the physical handling of coins and notes is viewed as a viral risk.

"We were able to roll out all these things to meet an acute need very, very quickly because all the foundations were in place," said Dr Balakrishnan.