Contact Tracing and the Pen – Dr. John Teo, et al.

There is a saying that ” the pen is mightier than the sword” and indeed the pen in this case, can be deadly.

The Government announced on 12th May that shop owners need to only register their customers’ names and telephone numbers for Covid-19 contact tracing.

This triggered shops from supermarkets, bakery, restaurants and many other businesses to set up registration books and requesting that all customers to write down those details. 

In popular shops, a common scene is that of long lines of people, one by one writing their names on the book or paper using the SAME pen prepared by the shop and having hand contact with the book.

To prevent Covid- 19 transmission, the public are told not to shake hands as we can transmit the virus to each other.

Now imagine one has Covid – 19 and has viral particles on their hand. They will transmit this to the pen and paper and many other individuals who use the same pen/paper have risk of getting infected.

Imagine now if it’s a supermarket whereby 500 or 1000 people visited on that day, we can potentially start a cluster and many may be infected.

Imagine further thousands of shops all over the country doing this, a recipe for disaster.

These places must never utilise methods that may potentially lead to great harm.

There is a saying that ” the pen is mightier than the sword” and indeed the pen in this case, can be deadly.

If the pen must be used, the following may be a few ways to minimise the risk of the pen transmitting the virus. 

  1. Sanitising every customer hands BEFORE using the pen
  2. Sanitising the pen with every use
  3. Sanitising both customers hands and the pen with every use
  4. Customers to bring their own pen
  5. Shop staff to write for everyone 

Above is with the proviso that the Alcohol sanitiser must be at least 70% alcohol content approved by Ministry of Health and its recommended that the sanitiser remain on the hands or pen for at least 30 seconds to be effective. 

One can see that those conditions may be difficult to fulfill with daily conditions.

In addition, there are also many other sanitiser brands that may not necessarily have MOH approval and thus effectiveness may not be optimal. 

The most ideal way is the NO TOUCH techniques using smart phones. 

For example, using  Bluetooth, smartphones can log other phones they have been near. If someone becomes infected, there is a ready list of their prior encounters. Phones on the list would get push notifications urging them to get tested or self-isolate.

Singapore uses bluetooth technology and an app called “Trace together.” South Korea, China and many other European countries are using similar app based approaches. Other “No touch” technological approach includes using WhatsApp to sent their details to the shop or scanning the shop’s QR code. 

It’s been noted in the past, on many instances, that large scale disaster may happen from what seems like the most innocuous of events. 

Attention to details is crucial when health care efforts are initiated. 

Contact tracing is one of the crucial efforts we must undertake to fight this pandemic. However, we need to take extra care that in doing so, we do not facilitate the passage of more infections. 

The other issue is of course the privacy of those data collected by all business premises and whether they comply with the  Personal Data Protection Act. Citizens must be assured that this data is solely used for the intended purpose and not for some other unauthorised purpose. 

We therefore urge that in contact tracing efforts, we need to use the safest way possible and adhere to the dictum  “first and foremost do no harm.”

This letter is signed by Dr. John Teo (obstetrician & gynaecologist ), Dr Amar-Singh HSS (consultant senior paediatrician) and Dr Timothy William (consultant Infectious diseases specialist)

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

You may also like