Coronavirus: 1.5 million people use Covid-19 WhatsApp helpline in under a week

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(Getty)
(Getty)

More than 1.5 million people have used the Department of Health's Covid-19 WhatsApp-based helpline in less than a week, said the information technology company behind the service.

Dubbed Covid-19 Connect, it has served more than 15 million messages since it was launched at the weekend, said Praekelt.Org, which created the service in one week, on Wednesday.

The text-based helpline is part of the department's response programme which includes a 24-hour hotline.

The hotline has been inundated with calls as people seek more information on the novel coronavirus or try to find out how they can get tested for it.

READ | Information squeeze: Covid-19 scientists, experts in SA silenced as government centralises communication

Users save the Covid-19 Connect number on their phones before sending requests and questions to the service. They then receive automated responses to frequently asked questions.

"The service is enabling the South African government to have direct communication with the public, empowering individuals with the right information and alleviating pressure on the national call centre," said Praekelt in a statement.

"Using the World Health Organisation's up-to-the-minute information, coupled with localised news updates and information on prevention, symptoms, treatment, risks, travelling and testing, Covid-19 Connect is helping mitigate against the misinformation that can distract from critical health prevention support across all levels of society."

The digital development company said the service "also provides real-time data insights to support effective decision-making by the South African government" as it responded to the spread of the virus.

It added Covid-19 Connect would be available in more languages soon.

Getting in touch with the Department of Health

How can you set up Covid-19 Connect?

Step 1: Save the number 0600 123456 to your contacts on your cellphone.

Step 2: In WhatsApp send the word "Hi" to Covid-19 Connect and start chatting.

Hotline

Alternatively, you can call the department's coronavirus hotline on 0800 029 999.

- Compiled by Sheldon Morais

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