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TraceTogether – Singapore’s latest effort in contact tracing

Mounir Jamil

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TraceTogether covid-19

Singapore’s latest innovation, TraceTogether Tokens, is the country’s latest effort to battle coronavirus but has also stirred up some privacy issues.

The wearable device is a supplement to the current contact-tracing app and identifies individuals who might be infected by those who already test positive for COVID-19.

All that users have to do is carry one of the devices with them. The battery can last up to nine months without needing a single recharge.

The government agency that worked on developing the TraceTogether Tokens, acknowledge that it isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ but it should augment our efforts in human contact-tracing. Amongst the first to receive the device were thousands of vulnerable elderly people who don’t own a smartphone.

To obtain the device, they had to provide their national ID and phone numbers, TraceTogether app users had recently started to do the same.

If TraceTogether dongle users test positive for coronavirus, they have to hand in their device to the Ministry of Health because they can’t transmit their data over the Internet – unlike the app.

Afterwards, human contract-tracers will use the logs to detect and advise others who might have been potentially infected.

Being the first country to deploy a nationwide coronavirus tracing app, Singapore’s local authorities say that 2.1 million people have downloaded the software since, making up about 35% of the population. It is voluntary for everyone to download the app except for migrant workers living in dorms.

The government claims that the app has aided in quickly quarantining some people, however by its own admission, the tech doesn’t work as well as they had expected.

For iPhone users, the app needs to be running in the foreground for the Bluetooth ‘handshake’ to happen, meaning that users can’t use their handsets for any other function. Moreover, it’s a huge drain on the battery.

Luckily, Android devices don’t have the same issue. Automated contact-tracing is in theory hugely effective but only if it is widely adopted.

When the TraceTogether Tokens were first announced in June, it stirred negative reaction from the public – something very rare in Singapore. An online petition asking for the app to be ditched garnered almost 54,000 signatures.

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MedTech

Pandemic Winners, Losers, and the Underdog

Mounir Jamil

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As our society reflects in agony upon the devastation caused by the pandemic, one can’t help but examine the direct effects of this deadly virus on our daily work in offices and closed rooms.

This reflection also leads us to the big question: which companies remained standing on boxing ring?

It’s safe to say that the tech sector has weathered some of the most disruptive effects of the pandemics relatively well, thanks to its agile adaptation speed, and how fast new tech is rolling out into the market.

But not all the players in the tech game have managed to smoothly sail the tides of the pandemic.

And it is too early to determine whether pandemic related shifts in usage and IT tactics will remain permanent.

However, some areas of the computing world have seen a boost while others are withering away.

Video Conferencing vs. Office Management Tools

The biggest and easiest to spot out of the pandemic winners is hands down the videoconferencing ecosystem, which is evident by the skyrocketed demand due to shifts in education and remote work.

Take Zoom as an ideal example; that literally saw sales boom during the pandemic and took advantage to develop their own niche marketplaces that offer specialized extensions for several industries including education and finance.

There won’t be a winner without a loser.

And in this case the losing counterpart that took a major hit during the pandemic is software and hardware packages that are aimed at simplifying our day in the physical office.

As long as we are continuing to work from home, enterprises specializing in software for scheduling rooms or office productivity will continue to witness a drastic decline in their demands.

Another player that is taking up a beating is the RFID chip segment whereby tools that are built around detecting and directing people using physical presence will not be a major focus – until we return back to our offices.

Collaboration Tools is where it’s at

The pandemic has certainly underscored the dire need for office tools that enable coworkers to collaborate on documents and presentations, rendering this technology as another major contender amongst pandemic winners.

Moreover, this new increased demand can be expected to stay around long post-pandemic as several business leaders are realizing the full benefits of remote working – and to be honest, might be getting a bit too comfortable with it!

A noticeable trend to point out here is the rise of online collaboration tools that support marketplace that enables third parties to offer extensions that add functionality to all platforms. Prime examples are Zoho that specialize in online productivity tools and SaaS applications, and Salesforce that offer SaaS solutions specific to customer relationship management (CRM).

The Underdog: Cloud

An overall analysis at pandemic winners and losers would not be complete without mentioning the unsung underdog in all of this, and in our case it is definitely cloud computing.

As cloud deployment and adoptions are only gaining traffic, numbers aggregated from Statista indicates that In 2020, the public cloud services market is predicted to reach around $257.5 billion in size and by 2022 market revenue is forecast to exceed $362.3 billion.

Cloud services have greatly met our expectations when we needed them the most, and industries will be increasingly adopting them in the near future.

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MedTech

The controversy around the Chinese vaccine explained

Adnan Kayyali

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Chinese vaccine

Recent controversy surrounding the Chinese vaccine, CoronaVac, manufactured by Sinovac have left many people fearful of the worst. Drug trials in Brazil have found that the vaccine only has a 50.4 percent efficacy rate, leading people to question the safety of the vaccine.

According to the world health organization, a vaccine only needs to be 50 percent effective, a benchmark which the Chinese vaccine just passes. Other trials in Turkey and Indonesia found rates ranging from 60 to 90 percent, while the institute itself announced the efficacy rate to be at 78 percent.

At least 17 countries have already pre-purchased the Chinese vaccine, and many have begun distributing it to their citizens already such as in the UAE.

Given the confusion and faltering confidence by the public, why are countries still buying it up and pre-purchasing CoronaVac?

According to drug trial results, the vaccine was found to induce a quick immune response within four weeks of injection with 2 doses taken 14 days apart. Some vaccines can take up to 30 days apart to have an effective response, and with every day wasted meaning more needless loss of life, speed is vital.

Another advantage of having another vaccine option is that some people have severe adverse reactions to vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna. It is a good idea to have an alternative handy.

There is also a great logistical advantage to using the Chinese vaccine to immunize the population. The Chinese vaccine can be stored at normal fridge temperatures for up to 3 years without expiring.

Other vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna, which require specialized storage conditions and temperatures to remain usable. Entire vaccine batches can be squandered just by improper storage or a fluctuation in temperatures even for a short time.

In countries with unstable power supply for example, or vast countries with a large rural populace, many find that aspect to be especially appealing.

Given the logistical nightmare that is storing and distributing millions upon millions of vaccine doses all over a given country, this vaccine alternative is simply more feasible and much cheaper. Many countries simply cannot have such storage facilities built and maintained in remote areas, making this vaccine ideal for immunizing large rural populations.

As vaccine manufacturers have admitted, having a diversified portfolio of candidates may be better than relying on one vaccine, as different sources meet different demands.

To put it simply, the Chinese vaccine is not perfect, but it does the job, and is another useful tool in the diverse arsenal being used to halt the pandemic once and for all. It is safe, it is effective, and available. 

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MedTech

The 5 most purchased Covid-19 vaccine candidates globally

Adnan Kayyali

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most purchased Covid-19 vaccine

Never in history has the world seen such a collective push towards a single goal. Vaccination and immunization of the world’s populations has been every government’s top priority for the past year. Thus, a colossal amount of time, expertise and funding took vaccine research and development into hyperdrive.

With currently 77 vaccines in phase three trials, here are five of the most purchased Covid-19 vaccines that have already been signed up:

Pfizer

Perhaps the most referenced vaccine candidate in the world, Pfizer is the 4th most purchased Covid-19 vaccine out there, with just over 700 million to the EU, US, and UK, and more than 10 other countries globally including South Korea, and Switzerland and New Zealand, Lebanon and Kuwait.

After concluding their third phase of trials, the candidate was found to be 95% effective after the first dose and is considered one of the most trustworthy vaccines on the market despite some media hysteria naturally surrounding it.

Moderna

The smallest of the top 5 giants but by no means the least effective with only just over 400 million doses sold in seven countries and the EU. The Moderna vaccine’s effectiveness sits broadly between 50 percent to 94 percent upon administering the second dose. This is the second highest rate of effectiveness on the market so far. Moderna has an edge over the other vaccines in that it does not need to be kept at extra cold temperatures to be stored, making it much easier to distribute, store, and rollout.

Recent allergic reactions to one batch of vaccines has led to a halt of operation in California until health authorities can figure out what is going on, but this is likely an anomaly.

Oxford vaccine

The Oxford vaccine is currently the number one most purchased Covid-19 vaccine out there, distributing over 2.6 billion doses across the world, mainly in the EU, the U.S, and the COVAX alliance.

Made by the university of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca, the vaccine has a 70 percent effectiveness against the virus, but can go up to 90% if administered in the proper dosage, with two doses given 28 days apart.

Sanofi GSK

Despite an initial delay due to an inefficient immune response in older adults, over 530 million doses of the Sanofi GSK vaccine have already been pre-purchased by the EU, UK, US, Canada, and another 200 million doses by the COVAX alliance.

The second phase of trials have been delayed until February, but the company is adamant to do its part in mass vaccination process as “No single pharma company can make it alone; the world needs more than one vaccine to fight the pandemic.” said Thomas Triomphe, EVP and Head of Sanofi Pasteur on the company website.

Novavax

With the second most purchased Covid-19 vaccine worldwide, Novavax, or Novavax NVX-CoV2373 vaccine to be precise, is the dominant vaccine found in India with over 1 billion doses sold to the country alone, and another 300 million sold to Australia, Indonesia, and of course, the US, Canada, and UK.

Most of these vaccines have currently been sold in credit form, meaning the doses are promised to the buyers beforehand. A great logistical and manufacturing effort is being made to make these deliveries happen, and despite missteps and some delays, the mass immunization process continues worldwide.

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