Not time to relax
When the government launched the Thai Chana platform in the middle of March, it expected the app to play an important role after the easing of lockdown measures. However, the assumption was too high as things have turned out differently.
The Thai Chana website and app was developed by the IT team of Krung Thai Bank. The team received full support from the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), which is chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The CCSA announced that Thai Chana platform would be a national tool to track and notify people who might have been exposed to Covid-19. The technology was touted as one of the government's measures to mitigate the spread of a second wave of infections.
During the initial phase of lockdown easing, shopping malls, convenience stores and restaurants had a strict rule that customers must check in and check out using the Thai Chana platform, wear face masks and check body temperature.
Yet, as we continue with the fourth phase of easing of lockdown measures, people have become less serious about using the Thai Chana platform.
Over the past few weeks, some of the restaurants and places I visited did not have the Thai Chana Quick Response (QR) code. The reasons they gave me for not having it was that they did not need it.
Moreover, convenience stores like 7-11, Mini Big C and Lotus supermarket that I visited do not take check-ins seriously. When I asked the staff why they did not require customers to scan the Thai Chana QR code as was the norm over the past few months, I always received a smile as an answer. One staff member even cited that everything seemed to be OK now as the reason. Other explanations included that some customers did not bring their mobile phones or customers' mobile phones were outdated and couldn't scan a QR code.
Although the state of emergency requires the use of contact tracing technology, the government cannot force all government agencies, shops or venues to use Thai Chana platform. The government does not even dare to make it mandatory for its citizens to use the system. Instead, check-ins and checkouts have become voluntary.
It's been more than a month since the country has had any report about a local transmission event. All the new cases have been found among returnees and hence we feel more relaxed and for some reason have lowered our guard. Some people have stopped wearing face masks when they are in public areas and social distancing seems to have become a memory.
One may be wondering if Thai Chana is still needed.
Dr Prasit Watanapa, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Mahidol University, insists that we should still use the Thai Chana platform, especially when all lockdown measures are lifted. It is possible that a second wave of infections will occur like what happened in China, South Korea and Germany.
He urges people to use Thai Chana every time and to use it correctly.
"If you check in, you should also check out because knowing the time you spend in one place is crucial for contact tracing," he said, adding that the faster the government can find out who is at risk and can locate a risky area, the better chance to limit the spread.
Evaluation of venues is also important, he said. The data can help the government learn which places have good hygiene measures, another key factor to reduce the spread of the virus.
No one wants to see the country enter total lockdown again. I still remember the super-spreader from the Lumpini boxing match on March 6. The Disease Control Department could manually trace only 55 people out of at least 500 attendees who were at risk of infection.
Fighting Covid-19 without technology is like walking blind in the bush. Since the Thai Chana platform is a useful tool to help fight against Covid-19, we should use it. I even want the app to have an option of keeping a log of places I checked in during the past 14 days. The function was available during the test period but the CCSA wanted it removed, fearing criticism of privacy violations.
As the country enters the fifth phase of easing of lockdown next month, video game shops, pubs, bars, karaoke shops and wet massage parlours will resume operations. The Thai Chana QR code, which is supposed to be displayed at each establishment will surely be missing in some venues. We should not wait until a new infection occurs to realise how important it is to use this platform.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for Life section.