Build better Covid apps

Build better Covid apps

The war against Covid-19 will be a long one, and despite the substantial rise in cases and the death toll, it is too early to predict whether Thailand will win or lose. Last year, our frontline workers -- often referred to as "Nak Roeb Sua Kao" (warriors in white gowns) won an early battle against the coronavirus after efficiently tracing infections and treating people.

Yet, the country now appears to be in retreat following the identification of clusters in Samut Sakhon province, gambling dens in the eastern provinces and Bangkok's Thong Lor and Klong Toey areas.

But before embarking on a new battle -- which must be about vaccination and the pursuit of herd immunity -- the government needs to fix its weak and often neglected mobile tracing apps.

In Thailand, there are three popular apps used to help prevent Covid-19 infections: Thai Chana (Thais Win), Mor Chana (Doctors Win) and Mor Prom (Doctors Ready). All three of these apps are mediocre and should have been promoted better.

The first two were developed around the middle of last year. Mor Chana was developed by tech-savvy volunteers before the project was handed over to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES).

This app, which utilises Bluetooth technology, collects data and warns users when they are close to suspected carriers of the coronavirus.

Thai Chana -- developed by the authorities -- is used to scan QR codes upon entry to commercial venues people visit so the government can gather data on movements and timelines.

Meanwhile, Mor Prom, introduced earlier this month by the Public Health Ministry, allows people to book their vaccinations.

More than 50 million people have downloaded both apps and scan QR codes, despite not knowing how they work and what benefits users will get by using them.

For the Mor Chana app, 9.84 million people have downloaded it, with 46,272 issued coronavirus-related warnings, as of April 26, according to data from the DES Ministry.

After being used by people for over a year, it was taken off app stores after the DES -- the state agency responsible for handling the Covid-19 app -- failed to renew its contract. After receiving a deluge of complaints, the DES renewed the contract to make it available again for download.

The authorities should improve the efficiency, user interfaces and profiles of both apps. As of now, people are relying on posts on Line and other social media platforms to learn about potential at-risk areas.

The most embarrassing moment was the collapse of Mor Prom. It crashed almost immediately after being officially launched on May 1.

According to critics, it was a server problem. The truth is, the Mor Prom app is not at all user-friendly and the vaccination booking system is confusing.

For now, Mor Prom only works for Thais wanting to book a vaccination.

The authorities claim that they will open the app to foreigners to use in June. People are now wondering how messy the national vaccination programme will become considering Mor Prom is so mind-boggling to use at the moment.

The authorities should consider hiring a professional firm to handle the development of such apps instead of putting them in the hands of agencies such as the DES Ministry. Now is the time to utilise the tech-savviness of the country's technical experts to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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