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Executive Yuan hopes apps can help limit travel

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The Freeway Bureau’s smartphone application, “Freeway 1968,” could be used to restrict traffic and visitors headed to popular scenic areas during the Workers’ Day long weekend next month, the Executive Yuan said.

The government decided a new method was needed to remind people to observe social distancing rules and other restrictions after the number of text messages it sent over the Tomb Sweeping Day long weekend angered travelers as well as hoteliers.

The bureau’s app, which was developed in-house, could be upgraded to allow the government to monitor the flow of traffic and people into scenic areas and determine if additional travel warnings are needed, Vice Premier Chen Chi-mai said on Saturday.

He hopes the improvement would be available by the next holiday weekend from May 1 to May 3.

Department of Cyber Security Director-General Howard Jyan said the app was designed to help drivers follow the traffic flow on freeways, but it could not determine the exact number of people traveling to scenic areas.

A new function would be added to enable the app to conduct big data analysis and issue alerts when there are large numbers of travelers headed to specific travel destinations, Jyan said.

The alerts would be graded by color from green to yellow to red, with red meaning that scenic areas are too crowded, he said.

Asked if the government was developing a specific app that could remind the public to observe social distancing and sound an alarm if a user is near a crowded place or too close to a confirmed COVID-19 case, Central Epidemic Command Center spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang said the technology is available, but officials are discussing how it could be used to ensure that people’s right to privacy and other interests or legal rights are not compromised.

These problems need to be addressed before the government could launch such an app, he said.

The Executive Yuan said that engineers are testing such an app, but the public’s response to it would be crucial.

Many other nations have asked about working with Taiwan to learn how it has been able to use big data to help limit the spread of COVID-19, it added.

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