Gov’t: Install COVID Tracking App, or Get Prosecuted If Infected

Police officers hand out face masks to motorists at a checkpoint in Si Saket province on Jan. 7, 2020.

Update: The government appears to have backed down from the order. 

BANGKOK — The government’s pandemic response center said it may soon give Thais a clear choice: install a movement surveillance application on your phone, or face jail term if you’re found infected with the virus without the app.

A spokesman for the center said Thursday it approved a proposal to make Mor Chana tracking app mandatory for every resident in Thailand. If the policy is adopted by the Cabinet, coronavirus patients who did not have the app on their phones will be punished for breaching the Emergency Decree – a threat that was swiftly reproached by the opposition.

“We will get more and more strict with this rule since we have had difficulties in tracing timelines of infected people,” spokesman Taweesin Visanuyothin said at the news conference.

“If someone has COVID-19 and does not install the ‘Mor Chana’ app, then they will be breaking the 17th Issuance of the Emergency Decree.”

Suspects found guilty of breaking the emergency rule face up to two years in prison.

The COVID-19 Situation Administration Center earlier this week introduced Mor Chana as a new instrument to monitor the coronavirus threat. The application will trace and collect information of mobile phone users’ whereabouts based on their GPS location, officials said.

It’s an addition to an existing app developed by the health authorities, called Thai Chana, which allows visitors to public venues to register their entries, though it is not mandatory.

The threat of punishing members of the public who do not install the Mor Chana app was met with a chorus of condemnation by government critics, who warned that the measure may infringe on privacy and risk silencing people who may have the coronavirus.

“How can they think like this? Punishing those with COIVD-19 who don’t have the Mor Chana app with two years in jail and a 40,000 baht fee?” former technology minister Surapong Seubwonglee tweeted.

He added, “Now, we will see asymptomatic people or people with few symptoms avoiding COVID tests because they don’t want to go to jail.”

Opposition lawmaker MP Rangsiman Rome said that the rule was impractical, especially for the poor and those without smartphones.

“We shouldn’t prosecute people for not having money,” Rangsiman, who’s an MP for Move Forward Party, wrote online. “It’s the government’s job to provide welfare, not to force citizens to act for the government’s convenience.”