Application of logic needed in Covid battle
It's not easy being a national Covid-19 taskforce in a country ruled by an ultra-conservative government driven by cumbersome bureaucracy and a daily dose of hypocrisy.
This is probably why there have been more excuses and clarifications during the coronavirus updates recently.
For a start, which contact-tracing application should we use: the Thai Chana app recommended for checking in and out of public places earlier or the Mor Chana app that has been suggested recently as a better track-and-trace tool? Or both? More importantly, why?
It remains unclear how the two apps would work together, or whether they are both needed, to provide contact tracing and warnings to users.
What is clear is that whoever is responsible did not think through, or care that much about the public who the target users are.
The name Mor Chana -- or Doctors Win -- is once that would not click easily with users looking for a track-and-trace application.
The government's assumption might be that if more people download it, that will help doctors win the battle against the virus.
But that is circuitous. Besides, this is first and foremost an application for the general public, not health professionals. Why name it in a way that puts the doctors first?
Thai Chana means Thailand Wins. Mor Chana is Doctors Win. So where is the public in this fight? Aren't they going to win too?
The conservatives' top-down attitude is clearly reflected in the threat, quickly rescinded, that people who do not install the Mor Chana app will face a fine or jail term if they become infected with Covid-19.
They don't seem to care whether they made the application mandatory in the first place, or merely encouraged people to use it.
They don't care whether they made a proper introduction or communicated enough about how the app works and why is it necessary. They turned a deaf ear to privacy concerns.
They don't care either if the Thai Chana app that they earlier told the public to use functions well, whether it has sent any warnings to people who visited infection hotspots or whether people are still using it at all.
Failures by the authorities seem to be condoned but those by the public must be punished.
It's no surprise the Mor Chana threat was met with an uproar so huge that the Covid-19 centre had to apologise and clarify that only those who became infected, tried to conceal information and did not install the application would be considered to have violated the regulation.
More importantly, what could the Covid-19-fighting centre do except keep apologising when its job demands transparency and decisive action but the government and related mechanisms do not seem ready.
The new outbreak started because of the trafficking of migrant workers who avoided the mandatory quarantine.
Logic would demand that the border be sealed and an immediate clampdown on traffickers imposed. But it seems nobody is ready to do that. That is why the public were fed with excuses, such as the border is too long but security manpower too short.
Should the failure to guard the border effectively be punished just like members of the public who fail to download the Mor Chana app to protect themselves and others?
Not really, it appears. The military could just say it found no wrongdoing in the trafficking, and life goes on.
Likewise, hundreds of new cases have emerged of people apparently visiting gambling dens, in not one but several provinces.
What could authorities who are supposed to look after the matter do? Raid and close them all down? That might be the first response in an ideal world but in reality the seemingly straightforward law enforcement option seems too problematic.
What is the "power" behind the gambling dens that police could run into should they try a crackdown? What could happen to them if they disrupted the underground network and flow of income?
Aren't the perpetrators of these shadowy activities the "usual suspects" who seem to be above the law anyway?
These are why hypocrisy was a much more convenient response. There is no corruption in the trafficking of migrant workers. There has never been a gambling den in Thailand, just empty go-downs complete with air-conditioners and pretty wallpaper.
And what about entertainment venues and prostitution where Covid-19 is reported to have spread? Are you kidding me? Thailand is a Buddhist country. We do not allow such "sinful" activities to proliferate.
So what could a command centre tasked with combating the coronavirus pandemic do under such a situation? Maybe the best thing they could do do is start a Line group. At least, they'd avoid confusing the public.
Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.