When reporting on the COVID-19 situation last week, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said the 1922 SMS contact tracing system would be gradually replaced by Taiwan Social Distancing app, but a prerequisite for abandoning the 1922 system is that at least 12 million people must have downloaded the app.
While the policy change is based on practical considerations, the Department of Health and Welfare should consider the following issues and propose complementary measures.
First, when customers enter a commercial establishment, will staff have to check one by one if they have installed the app?
Should staff also ensure that customers have Bluetooth enabled on their smartphone or other mobile device?
If a consumer only turns Bluetooth on when entering the store to show staff that they are following regulations, but then turns it off – to save power or for some other reason – wouldn’t that be a loophole? in the implementation of the policy?
Secondly, when people use public transport, such as MRT, train or bus, if there is no way to ensure that passengers have Bluetooth turned on, what can be done to remedy the resulting escape?
Third, since the beginning of the policy of wearing masks when not at home, the majority of people have understood the common sense of wearing masks in public places, but we still see some people removing their masks when ‘they think that no one looks at them, or wears them on the chin, or doesn’t completely cover their mouth and nose.
You can tell at a glance if someone is wearing a mask correctly, but some people still don’t. On the downside, you obviously can’t tell at a glance whether someone has installed the app or turned on Bluetooth on their mobile device.
If some people do not comply with the regulations, what possible measures is the Ministry of Health and Welfare considering to deal with it?
At present, there is a two-way system in which people must use either the SMS system or handwritten registration when entering business premises or using public transport. Even if enforcement becomes the norm, there are practical reasons why the alternative handwritten recording method cannot be removed.
If this policy change leads to a situation where all three systems – the app, the SMS system and the handwritten record – are in use, could this lead to gaps arising from the existence of these parallel systems?
These are all questions that the ministry should seriously consider.
Jian Bo-ren is a lawyer and a doctoral student in the Department of Civics and Leadership at National Taiwan Normal University.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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