WhatsApp is expanding its most important update yet

WhatsApp has announced plans to expand one of the most important updates it has ever launched. In a bid to help out with the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic gripping the UK, mainland Europe and United States, the Facebook-owned chat app teamed up with the UK Government to launch a chatbot to answer your worries and queries about COVID-19 and the lockdown measures in place to try to stop the spread and keep limited NHS resources below breaking point.

Since its launch, the WhatsApp-powered chatbot has already shared over one million messages with people worried about the coronavirus.

And now, the Government has dramatically expanded the capabilities of its chatbot. The update is designed to combat the spread of coronavirus misinformation in the UK, which has increasingly become a problem. Rumours of gargling disinfectant as a method to fight the potentially fatal virus, and holding your breath for 10 seconds as a way of testing for COVID-19 have spread like wildfire.

Incidentally, both of those examples are nonsense internet rumours and shouldn’t be taken seriously. In fact, they’re exactly the sort of thing the Government chatbot should extinguish immediately thanks to the addition of the new “mythbusting” section of the service.

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According to the Government, “users of the Coronavirus Information Service are able to receive easily accessible and UK Government verified information, to prevent the spreading of myths and misinformation. The tool will also continue to provide new content to address the evolving search queries and provide the most up to date information on coronavirus.”

New content now available on the service includes –

  • Advice for people at high risk of contracting the virus
  • A deep dive into social distancing
  • An explanation of shielding
  • Advice for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • How to check whether you’re eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Universal Credit
  • How to apply for financial help if you are self-employed
  • How you or your business can support the fight against Coronavirus
  • Link to tips on mental wellbeing whilst staying at home

The Coronavirus Information Service was initially launched with the aim of reducing the burden on NHS services – like the crucial 111 number – by providing millions of people across the UK with official, trustworthy and timely information and advice about the virus.

By signing up to the service, WhatsApp users will receive text messages with updates on any changes in the Government policy around the coronavirus outbreak. As a reminder, the current advice is for people to stay indoors at all times – leaving only to attend an essential job, shop for essentials, medical reasons, or for an hour of outdoor exercise locally.

WhatsApp Chief Operating Officer Matt Idema said: “People all over the world are using WhatsApp more than ever to connect with and support their friends, family and communities during this crisis. Now, thanks to the UK Government’s Coronavirus Information Service, the British public can also get official, timely and trustworthy advice about Coronavirus on WhatsApp. We will continue to support the UK Government to develop the service with updated information and official guidance as the situation develops.”

If you didn’t sign-up when the service first launched, you can still interact with the newly-improved chatbot.

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To do so, simply add 07860 064422 to your contacts on your iPhone or Android smartphone. Then launch WhatsApp and send a message saying “Hi” to the number you’ve just put into your contacts list.

You should then get a reply with a number of menu options. Pick the topic you’re interested in and WhatsApp will send you relevant guidance from the official Gov.UK webpages as well as further links if you need extra information.

Since it’s a chatbot, the service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So send it a text message whenever you’re worried about an aspect of the coronavirus pandemic.

The World Health Organisation also launched its WHO Health Alert on WhatsApp late last month, and it was used by over 10 million people worldwide in the first three days.

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