With the deadly Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) spreading around the world rapidly, it has created panic and fear among people. As a result, people are believing in everything that is shared over the internet and social media platforms that are giving information about coronavirus.

While it’s good to be updated on the situation regarding COVID-19, but not all information shared regarding the epidemic may be true. Hence, in order to avoid the spread of fake news and misinformation, the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Saturday launched a coronavirus pandemic-focused chatbot.  

Dubbed as the WHO Health Alert, this free service has been “designed to answer questions from the public about Coronavirus, and to give prompt, reliable and official information 24 hours a day, worldwide.”

This messaging service will provide the latest news and information on coronavirus including details on current infection rates, how people can protect themselves as well as others, travel advice for people on the move, tips and FAQs on the disease, and myths surrounding COVID-19. 

 This service will also serve government decision-makers by providing the latest numbers and situation reports that can assist them in protecting the health of their populations. 

“With WHO Health Alerts, you can receive their daily situation report, which has the latest numbers of cases by country around the world, as well as tips on how to protect yourself, and answers to frequently asked questions that you can easily send to friends and family,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg commented on the new service launch.

“Digital technology gives us an unprecedented opportunity for vital health information to go viral and spread faster than the pandemic, helping us save lives and protect the vulnerable. We are proud to have partners like Facebook and WhatsApp, that are supporting us in reaching billions of people with important health information,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO said.

To use the chatbot service, all you need to do is follow the steps below:

  1. Add and save +41 79 893 1892 number in your phone contact list. 
  2. Open WhatsApp on your phone, and send “Hi” to the WHO Health Alert no (the one above). 

Once the message is sent, you will receive a list of options to choose from. You need to either send numbers (or emojis) to get more info on the corresponding topics above.  

Alternatively, you can also visit the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub at whatsapp.com/coronavirus, and click on the WHO link on the homepage to open up a chat with the WHO Health Alert if you have WhatsApp installed. 

While WHO has an extensive site dedicated to COVID-19, WhatsApp is an easier and more accessible way to reach over 2 billion people and provide information about the current situation.

“This easy-to-use messaging service has the potential to reach two billion people and enables WHO to get information directly into the hands of the people that need it,” the WHO said in a statement.

Currently, WHO Health Alert service is available only in the English language. However, support for more languages including, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish should be available on the chatbot service within the coming weeks. 

WhatsApp has also announced a $1M grant to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to support fact-checking for the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance on the instant messaging platform and to report on rumors that may be circulating on various messaging services including WhatsApp or SMS.

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