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Taiwan not scrapping real name tracing until at least mid-2022

Health minister says scheme necessary for fear of hidden sources of infections

Real name SMS tracing is required at Dadaocheng Wharf in Taipei.

Real name SMS tracing is required at Dadaocheng Wharf in Taipei. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The real-name-based contact tracing scheme will not be terminated until at least the middle of next year, the head of Taiwan’s COVID-19 task force said Thursday (Oct. 21).

While Taiwan appears to have brought the coronavirus under control, the government is taking a cautious stance towards any relaxation of restrictions. A premature exit of the SMS tracing system could hurt efforts to contain the virus in the event of a fresh outbreak, said Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), health minister and chief of the Central Epidemic Command Center.

This government-developed system, which involves scanning a QR code using a cellphone, allows facilitated tracing of people potentially exposed to COVID. It will remain in place for some time even when many curbs are gradually lifted, Chen reckoned.

Introduced in May at a budget of NT$300 million (US$10.76 million), the real-name registration system had seen 2.6 billion text messages sent as of Oct. 14, costing the national coffers NT$50 million, CNA quoted National Communications Commission Chairperson Chen Yaw-shyang (陳耀祥), as saying.

The country’s telecommunications service providers have supported the measure with deducted fees, all to be shouldered by the government. It is scheduled to end by the end of June 2022.

Digital Minister Audrey Tang (唐鳳) has boasted about the user-friendliness of the service, saying it takes but a few seconds and should not become a hassle for the public. User data is deleted after 28 days.