Thailand’s new COVID app? ‘Garbage,’ its developers say.

Accusations that health officials sabotaged the data in their own health-tracking app to give a rosier impression of COVID-19 risks were backed up today by a respected academic who contributed to its development.

Retired Chulalongkorn Professor Loy Chunpongtong said in a television interview that the volunteer developers of the Mor Chana tracking app quit because the Disease Control Department had interfered by hiding cases to reduce health alerts, undermining the purpose of a tool the public has been told to trust.

“If the Disease Control Department can’t or doesn’t want to identify anyone as [infected], Mor Chana will just be garbage,” said Loy, a consultant on the project who accused department personnel of not entering cases into the system.

He called out the department director to explain why they want everyone in the system, which tracks users to notify them of possible exposure, to remain classified as low-risk.

Director Opas Kankawinpong today did not address the allegations directly, but noted that 4,232 health alerts have gone out in Bangkok, Trat, Chonburi, Tak and Chachengsao provinces since the app’s early January launch.

Every healthy person who signs up with the app starts at a low-risk “green.” If the GPS-enabled system detects that they came near someone confirmed ill by health officials, it is supposed to notify them and upgrade their risk potential to orange or yellow levels of risk. But that requires health officials dutifully entering all those infected and their whereabouts. 

There was already controversy in recent weeks over the system’s integrity as visits to 7-Eleven stores – Thailand’s lowest social denominator – weren’t logged due to fear of mega conglomerate-of-conglomerates Charoen Pokphand, or CP.

The smell of drama was in the air Friday evening when the app’s volunteer developers put out a statement distancing themselves from it, announcing it had “transitioned from a volunteer app to a fully governmental app.” They went on to express hope it would work even better without the volunteers who entered all the case data, a statement that splashed readers with its dripping sarcasm.

Then a leaked Line chat of one dev announcing they would quit due to interference by higher-ups was tweeted Saturday by Channel One31 reporter Prajya Aura-ek.

It cited a direct order from Director Opas to not enter a confirmed COVID-19 case so the user would stay green, which further depressed team morale.

In response, Opas said yesterday there could be some “misunderstanding” about some topics and insisted it would all be fully investigated.

Earlier this month, after the app’s launch, the COVID-19 task force warned that anyone not using it faced prosecution if they got sick, a threat later walked back.

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