Govt launches virus information service on WhatsApp

Updated March 31, 2020

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The WhatsApp chat will provide Pakistanis with answers to their corona-related queries. — AFP/File
The WhatsApp chat will provide Pakistanis with answers to their corona-related queries. — AFP/File

KARACHI: The government has launched a “WhatsApp Corona Helpline” to combat misinformation and deliver updates on the country’s most popular messaging service.

Starting Monday, WhatsApp users across the country can reach out to the health ministry on +923001111166 for credible information, awareness resources, latest statistics, or finding the nearest lab for testing. To contact the helpline, citizens should save the WhatsApp number in their phone, and then start a chat by typing “Hi” and sending it to the number, which will prompt them to either type in a query or choose from a list of frequently asked questions. Depending on the question, users will receive verified information in the form of a video, or text or link.

The WhatsApp helpline provides information in Urdu and six regional languages, including Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi and Kashmiri. The technology answers questions about novel coronavirus, its symptoms, ways to protect yourself, risk assessment, educative videos made by the health ministry and shares information about nearest labs for the Covid-19 test.

The helpline also provides daily figures of confirmed cases in Pakistan. The figures, however, are quoted from the National Institute of Health’s 10am update and do not tally with the latest number of confirmed cases across the country.

Facebook starts news hub for Pakistan

“WhatsApp is one platform where most conversations take place in the country. With the helpline, we aim to put maximum people at ease by letting them self-assess Covid risks and hence also lessen the burden on our health infrastructure,” said Khurram Jamali, Advisor to Digital Pakistan head Tania Aidrus.

Mr Jamali said the team was also working towards digitising lab testing results to map the spread of the virus across the country. “The aim is to compile confirmed tests of Covid-19 from labs across the country in one place that is accessible to the public,” he said.

Earlier, the government launched a chatbot on Facebook’s messenger app.

The messenger chatbot is powered by artificial intelligence that answers basic questions about the virus and if users want to assess whether they need a Covid-19 test or not, it will recommend testing based on questions such as “do you have fever above 100?”, “do you have cough?”, “have you travelled in the last 14 days?” or if “you have pre-existing conditions”.

Facebook’s news hub

Meanwhile, Facebook has also launched a “Coronavirus (Covid-19) Information Center” for Pakistan. The hub is featured at the top of the News Feed to provide a central place for people to get the latest news and information as well as resources and tips to stay healthy and support their family and community.

It includes real-time updates from national health authorities and global organisations such as the World Health Organisation, as well as helpful articles, videos and posts about social distancing and preventing the spread of Covid-19.

People can also follow the information centre to receive updates from health authorities directly in their News Feed.

The social media giant has also established a “Messenger Coronavirus Community Hub” (https://www.messenger.com/coronavirus) with tips and resources to keep people connected to their friends, family, colleagues and community, and prevent the spread of misinformation. It also includes advice on how to recognise and avoid scams and misinformation online.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020