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WHO launches COVID-19 health alert service with Facebook and WhatsApp

WHO launches COVID-19 health alert service with Facebook and WhatsApp

  • The World Health Organization held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 outbreak. Streamed live at 17.00 CET on Friday, 20 March.
  • A new health alert messaging system in partnership with Facebook and WhatsApp can help people get questions answered about the virus.

As worldwide cases of COVID-19 rise above 254,000 and one country after another increases restrictions on people’s movement, here’s what you need to know about the spread of the coronavirus, from officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

New health alert service launched with WhatsApp

At today’s briefiing, the WHO announced the launch of a messaging service in conjunction with partners WhatsApp and Facebook. The service, available only in English for now, has the potential to reach 2 billion people and help get reliable information to those who need it.

The service can be accessed through a link that opens a conversation on WhatsApp or by sending “hi” to the number 0041798931892. Once a conversation is activated, users can access a menu of options that can help answer their questions about COVID-19.

Coronavirus is a risk to people of all ages
Studies released this week found that the young have just as much to fear from COVID-19 as the elderly, WHO officials said. People under 50 comprise a significant number of people requiring hospitalization, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

Two out of 3 people admitted to intensive care units in Italy were younger than 50, said Michael Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme. Looking just at the mortality rates facing older people does not fully address the risk the disease presents, he said. “Let’s not just look at mortality rates”, said Ryan. “Let’s look at the impact to society”.

Dr Tedros warned young people to follow the recommendations from their local health authorities and limit physical gatherings. “You’re not invincible”, he said. “This virus could put you in hospital for weeks or kill you. The choices you make could mean the difference between life and death for other people”.

Spread the word about how to stay safe, he said, but don’t spread the virus.

Tips for keeping individuals and communities safe and healthy
As new cities and countries enact lockdowns and tighten restrictions, the WHO officials shared tips to preserve mental and physical health. These include:

  • Making time for exercise: The WHO recommends 30 minutes a day for adults and 1 hour a day for children. The Director-General suggested taking a walk or hike, or if local guidelines recommend staying inside, watching a workout video online, practicing yoga or walking up and down stairs in your home.
  • Taking breaks: For those working from home, they suggested taking regular breaks and avoiding sitting in the same position, if possible.
  • Practicing physical distancing, not social distancing. Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead, stressed that social connections are essential to coping during the pandemic, but asked that those bonds be maintained at a physical distance. Dr Tedros recommended that people check in on neighbours and friends, while keeping to local guidelines. “Supporting other people can help you as much as it does them”. He added: “Compassion is a medicine”.
  • Protecting healthcare workers. Don’t use masks unless you are caring for a sick person at home, to allow critical equipment to be used by the right people. Stick to local guidelines to avoid spreading the virus and putting additional pressures on the healthcare system.

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