Coronavirus: Chatbot to help Estonians cope during pandemic

Estonian government is using a chatbot developed by local startups to answer the many questions its citizens have about Covid-19

The Estonian government has approved a chatbot to provide its citizens with information about the Covid-19 coronavirus during the current pandemic.

The project will relieve pressure on call centres and reduce fake news through a digital assistant answering citizens’ questions about the disease.

Suve, as it is known, was created by developers at an event designed to unearth digital services to address some of the challenges facing Estonia and its people as a result of the pandemic. The government declared an emergency situation on 12 March.

Chatbot Suve was one of the ideas spawned at the hackathon organised by Garage48 and Accelerate Estonia as part of a plan by Estonia’s startup community to hack the current crisis. The team behind Suve, known as the eeBot, and are now co-operating with the government communication unit to roll out the chatbot.

Suve is now live on websites including Estonia’s government, health boardministry of social affairsWork in EstoniaInternational House of Estonia and Invest in Estonia, with other sites to follow.

The chatbot will answer citizens’ questions about Covid-19 with official, trusted information, helping to relieve pressure on call centres and stop fake news spreading.

Michaela Snopková, head of the eeBot team, said: “What makes it possible for us to hack the crisis is, on the one hand, our volunteers’ willingness to contribute their valuable time and knowledge, and on the other hand, our government’s willingness to take the solutions offered by tech-savvy volunteers seriously.

“I am also happy to see that there are various other teams across the nation doing the same. We are fighting side by side, using technology to tackle the various effects of the current situation.”

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The Estonian government is already working on creating an Alexa-like chatbot to help people access government services. #KrattAI, as it is known, will enable citizens to access and use the government services they require with the help of a digital personal assistant of their choice. The network of public sector software robots can be accessed through the virtual assistant to complete government service application processes.

Snopková said that because of this initiative, the idea of a nationwide chatbot had been in people’s minds before the coronavirus crisis. “But the hackathon gave us a real chance to bring it to life very quickly,” she said. “With that, hopefully we can ease the load on information hotlines just a little bit.” 

Marten Kaevats, national digital adviser at the Government Office of Estonia, said receiving trustworthy and updated information was crucial during the emergency situation. “The chatbot offers us a new possibility to receive information about changes and at the same time alleviate the pressure on information hotlines,” he said.

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