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19 Japan prefectures using Line app to offer coronavirus consultations

A smartphone showing a chat screen of the Kanagawa Prefectural Government's special Line account called the "new coronavirus measures personal support (administration)" is seen in this photo taken on March 30, 2020. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Local governments in Japan are increasingly using the free messaging application Line to provide consultations about the novel coronavirus as the spread of infections is causing a growing sense of unease among residents in the country.

Nineteen prefectural governments including Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama in eastern Japan had introduced the system as of March 30.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government created an account on March 27 called the "Tokyo new coronavirus measures personal support." Users can scan a QR code on the official website of the Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health and add the account as a friend.

Users then provide their zip code and age, and answer a survey asking questions including whether they have a chronic disease, fever or other symptoms, to which artificial intelligence (AI) responds right away. If it determines that the person needs to see a specialized facility, it will offer information on nearby public health centers and other institutions. Even if the AI decides that the individual does not need further consulting, the Line account will continue to offer messages asking the person about their health condition on a regular basis.

According to the metropolitan government, some 250,000 people had added the account as a friend as of 1 p.m. on March 30.

An official with the Tokyo government's infectious diseases control division explained, "Many of the users are young people. By creating a service where we can provide consultations around the clock, we aim to offer a speedier response. We would like people who find it difficult to consult us over the phone, including those with hearing impairments, to also use this service."

The Kanagawa Prefectural Government was the first administrative body to introduce the system. It created a Line account called "new coronavirus measures personal support (administration)" on March 5, which had been added as a friend by approximately 210,000 people as of March 30.

There is also a section where users can ask specific questions, for example what they should do when a family member seems to be infected, which was set up to ease congestion at the prefecture's telephone consultation service. The special Line account also has the benefit of collecting epidemiological data necessary to decide on public health policies, says the prefectural government.

In the greater Tokyo area, the Saitama Prefectural Government has also created an account using the name "Saitama Prefecture new coronavirus measures personal support."

Besides Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama, the prefectural governments of Akita, Miyagi, Fukushima, Fukui, Nagano, Gifu, Aichi, Mie, Shiga, Kyoto, Hyogo, Tottori, Shimane, Kagawa, Fukuoka and Nagasaki have made their own special Line accounts, which can all be accessed from the official website of the free messaging app at: https://linecorp.com/ja/covid19/prefecture/ (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Sumire Kunieda and Riki Yoshii, Integrated Digital News Center)

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