Jabs not the Holy Grail

Jabs not the Holy Grail

The latest Covid variant, Omicron, has dampened the festive mood as the year draws to a close.

And despite official warnings from scientists from South Africa and Botswana -- two countries where the variant had earlier been detected and shown to be highly transmissible -- this new threat continues to outsmart existing vaccines, although symptoms appear to be quite mild.

Pharmaceutical companies have found themselves back at square one as they rush to come up with a formula that will be effective in suppressing the strain's spread as once-novel routines of hygiene and social distancing become normal. In the worst-case scenario, another year of lockdowns, quarantine and restrictions could lie in wait. Health volunteers may be forced to return to action should another round of mass testing and tracing be called for in order to identify and protect the most vulnerable groups.

And if tracing a new batch of Covid patients is the key, Thais will have to pray for divine intervention because the state tracing system has been far from impressive or reassuring.

The most recent glaring example is the latest search for 272 travellers from eight risk-prone countries from the southern part of Africa.

The group entered the country on Nov 15 and remain in Thailand but must undergo a repeat RT-PCR test for Omicron which was omitted from earlier test protocols. The health authorities have been ordered to seek out travellers from eight countries since Dec 1. It is reported that the Ministry of Public Health is using the MorChana mobile tracing app to locate them. It is the first time that the ministry has had to use the system to locate foreign visitors since installing and using the app was introduced as a mandatory requirement for all foreign arrivals on Nov 1.

As of yesterday, only 44 had been located and given the RT-PCR test -- all of which came back clear. The health ministry has vowed to search for, and test, a further 133 travellers who have been in the country for less than two weeks, while the remaining 95 are not required to take an RT-PCR because they have been here for over two weeks already.

It can only be hoped that this digital technology can match the lightning speed at which the variant is able to spread. However, the first three days of what the ministry had hoped would be a sweeping and effective search identified only a quarter of the arrivals they were looking for. It remains to be seen how long it will take to round up the remaining 133 high-risk individuals.

So far, the case has been yet another example of the government's shortcomings at employing digital innovation in emergency track-and-trace situations.

Thais have had more than enough bad experiences of their own with state mobile apps, particularly the notorious MorProm app that the health ministry created to help with the administration of vaccines which suffered not only a number well-publicised glitches but also ended up going into complete meltdown amid server failures and conflicts between the software's designers. The app proved highly unpopular and has been repurposed. Only a month old, the MorChana app already appears ill-suited to monitoring the county's reopening to many thousands of tourists.

Omicron must be taken as a wake-up call that the country's fight against Covid is far from over and more than vaccines will be needed to combat it this time. With vaccines proving not be the Holy Grail many expected, much will depend on key decisions the government makes in the coming weeks and months.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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