WHO launches a WhatsApp chatbot to warn people about COVID-19

The World Health Organisation has launched a chatbot on WhatsApp to provide people with information about the novel coronavirus as the pandemic continues to spread across the globe.

The AI enabled service lets users of the Facebook-owned messaging app learn more about current infection rates, how to protect themselves, and get answers to frequently asked questions about the disease.

The service can be accessed through a link that opens a conversation on WhatsApp or by sending “hi” to the number +41798931892. Once a conversation is activated, users can access a menu of options that can help answer their questions about COVID-19.

The WHO’s bot is relatively simple, and doesn’t respond to natural language or questions from users. Instead, users can send numbers (or emojis) to get more info on corresponding topics — like “mythbusters,” “travel advice,” or how to donate to aid efforts.

The service, available only in English for now, has the potential to reach 2 billion people and help get reliable information to those who need it.

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, said in a statement:

“The new service, which is free to use, 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 will also serve government decision-makers by providing the latest numbers and situation reports.”

Unlike Facebook’s eponymous messaging service, or its Instagram app, WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, meaning Facebook cannot actively moderate content that users send one another on their service.