How to use the Government's new coronavirus WhatsApp service

25 March 2020, 15:07

The Government has launched a Coronavirus Information Service on WhatsApp
The Government has launched a Coronavirus Information Service on WhatsApp. Picture: HM Government
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK Government has launched a new Coronavirus Information Service on WhatsApp to provide people with "official and trustworthy" updates.

With coronavirus announcements coming thick and fast every day, the government has decided to set up a service that will provide Brits with more clarity during the pandemic.

People can now communicate with authorities via a new automated 'chatbot' style service on WhatsApp which "aims to provide official, trustworthy and timely information and advice about coronavirus (COVID-19), and will further reduce the burden on NHS services."

The service - a joint project with the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and the NHS - will "help combat the spread of coronavirus misinformation in the UK" and hopes to ensure people stay home and save lives.

But how do you sign up to the service?

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The 'chatbot' service will provide official information to the public
The 'chatbot' service will provide official information to the public. Picture: HM Government

How do I sign up to the government's new WhatsApp service?

Firstly, add the following number into your contacts book on your phone: 07860 064422.

Then, message the word 'hi' into a WhatsApp chat with the number.

You should then be presented with a set of menu options which you should be able to choose from.

This will allow you to be sent "relevant guidance from GOV.UK pages, as well as links to GOV.UK for further information.

What is a 'chatbot' service?

A 'chatbot' service is an automated message service that responds to certain keywords or a user's queries with automatic answers.

It uses artificial intelligence to swiftly provide people with information on certain topics.

There is no human at the other end of the conversation, therefore the responses can be limited.

The new Coronavirus Information Service will allow British people "to get answers to the most common questions" around Covid-19 "direct from the government."

What can I ask the Coronavirus Information Service?

You will be able to ask the government's new 'chatbot' service about:

- Coronavirus prevention
- Coronavirus symptoms
- The latest numbers in the UK
- Advice on staying at home
- Travel advice
- Myth busting

It will also allow the government, with the help of health officials, to send messages to everyone who opts into the system.

Prof Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director, Public Health England, said: "This service will help us ensure the public has a trusted source for the right information about coronavirus, updated with the latest public health guidance and providing assurance that they are not misled by any of the false information circulating."

Matt Idema, Chief Operating Officer, WhatsApp, said: "At difficult times like these, people are using WhatsApp more than ever to connect with and support their friends, family and communities.

"We are pleased to be able to provide the UK Government with the communications tools to help them answer the public's questions about the virus with reliable, timely health advice, in order to keep people safe."