UK Government Debuts Coronavirus WhatsApp Chatbot
The British government is using a WhatsApp chatbot to communicate with citizens about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The new service arrives just as the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a three-week lockdown for the country to try and limit the impact of the novel coronavirus on the country’s health.
The chatbot is designed to provide a range of information about the coronavirus and the ongoing fight against its spread. Anyone can access it by inputting the number as a WhatsApp contact and sending the message ‘hi.’ The response is a menu of options to learn facts and myths about the disease and what people should be doing during the pandemic. The chatbot, which is officially titled the GOV.UK Coronavirus Information Service uses a mix of sources including the National Health Service and the World Health Organization for the medical facts, sourced from the official government website. The government is updating the policy elements as necessary. There’s also an option to receive messages through WhatsApp from the government about the pandemic.
“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,” Public Health England medical director Yvonne Doyle said in a statement.
The chatbot extends the nationwide text messages that the government has pushed out a couple of times in the past week to announce the lockdown and other rules set out to stem the tide of infections. But, WhatsApp is extremely popular in the UK, so it’s not a surprise that the government would augment its communications with a tool on the platform. It’s why the government of India set up its own WhatsApp chatbot for information about the coronavirus.
“At difficult times like these, people are using WhatsApp more than ever to connect with and support their friends, family and communities,” WhatsApp COO Matt Idema said. “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.”
India and the UK both center their chatbots around accurate information, a crucial aspect of fighting the disease. Ironically, social media channels like WhatsApp are all too easy to use to spread rumors and misinformation. Both Alexa and Google Assistant removed all of the unofficial voice apps related to the coronavirus from their platforms for that reason. State governments are turning to AI platforms to communicate with citizens about the coronavirus too, partnering with voice app developers like Voicify to build them.
Meanwhile, healthcare organizations are working with companies to push out voice and chatbots about the pandemic to triage potential patients. Microsoft offers one template, as does Orbita, and the virtual assistant created by Hyro. The main difference is that those chatbots are embedded in the websites or voice apps of healthcare organizations as opposed to WhatsApp.