Coronavirus: Free COVID-19 advice rolled out on WhatsApp

Wednesday 25th March 2020 16:30 GMT

Users will be able to sign up to receive free messages with the latest official guidance on COVID-19 from an automated chatbot and directly from Whitehall.

Symptoms of the virus, tips to prevent getting it, travel information and the latest number of cases in the UK are some of the information the public will be able to get messaged directly to their phone.

Advice on staying at home and mythbusters to counter fake or misleading guidance that has been flying around are also available.

To receive the new updates, users need to add 07860 064422 to their phones and send a WhatsApp message to it saying "hi".

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Professor Yvonne Doyle, the medical director of Public Health England, said the service will "help us ensure the public has a trusted source for the right information about coronavirus, updated with the latest public health guidance".

She added it would "provide assurance" to people they are "not misled by any of the false information circulating".

Downing Street is already trying to work with tech giants to improve its communications strategy for tackling the coronavirus outbreak, which has at times been criticised as confusing.

Julian Knight, a Tory MP and head of parliament's digital select committee, last week turned up the pressure on Downing Street over its response to disinformation about the new coronavirus.

"We've known since January about deliberate attempts to spread fear and falsehoods on social media about coronavirus, with potentially serious outcomes," he wrote in a letter.

"We support the government's decision to tackle disinformation and misinformation about COVID-19 at this critical time but question why it has taken so long for ministers to set this up.

Earlier this week, Number 10 sent a text to every active UK phone number to encourage people to stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19.

People are being told only to leave their home if they have to go into work, collect medicine and food, and get daily exercise.

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