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WhatsApp's coronavirus helpline a hit with over 3 million South Africans

Published Mar 31, 2020

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Cape Town - The recently launched Covid-19 WhatsApp helpline including additional languages has shown to be quite effective in informing the public about the virus.

More than 3 million users have engaged with the service. The first week user figures were at 1.5 million and this figure steadily increased as it now has 3.3 million users.

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The National Department of Health first launched the Covid-19 Connect WhatsApp Helpline two weeks ago in English. After further consideration four additional languages were added to the service this past weekend. The extra languages are Sotho, Zulu, Afrikaans and Xhosa.

Praekelt.org supported the department in developing the service. 

Its general manager, Milton Madanda, said: “The scale of WhatsApp usage in South Africa is 70% of our population, therefore it is an effective way to provide vital, accurate information that people need directly from the National Department of Health. The national hotline and the official information portal website being included means that people can access accurate information from the government in the medium most accessible to them.”

Madanda said the high number of users provides a positive indication of the effectiveness and usefulness of the service.

80% of the public are returning users which means that people are returning to find information and updates more than once or on a regular basis.

It was not possible for Praekelt.org to detect which areas had the most users because WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted which means it is not possible to view where a user is located. 

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The most frequently asked questions include how to protect the hygiene of oneself and others, the importance of self-isolation and physical distancing, symptoms and myths about the virus. 

“The WhatsApp Helpline is free and the usual data costs from mobile network operators apply. We are exploring ways to make this service available to those without internet access, it is, however, great to see that some of the mobile network operators and banks are making free data available to their subscribers and customers over this time so they can access information and services,” he said.

He said people can ask additional questions on the WhatsApp service which is linked to a helpdesk. This could take a bit longer to receive a response.

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To all South Africans that would like to join the Covid-19 Connect conversation, type the word ‘Hi’ to +27 600 123 456 on WhatsApp. 

They will then be able to select the language of their choice before moving to the main menu which delivers responses to the most frequently asked questions about Covid-19 and the coronavirus.

Along with the website launch, the department also has put a WhatsApp support group into place where concerned South Africans can join the conversation and stay informed.

* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak, visit IOL's #Coronavirus trend page.

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** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za

@Sukainaish

[email protected]

Cape Argus

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