French researchers have launched a national phone line staffed by so-called “digital assistants” who will help check whether callers have symptoms of COVID-19.
Callers to the free AlloCovid service will be put through to one of 1,000 “intelligent virtual agents” which will listen to symptoms and assess whether they are likely to have been infected.
“The digital assistant is also able to detect signs of the severity of the disease, as well as vulnerable patients requiring special attention,” a statement explained.
The service was created by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and researchers at the University of Paris.
They believe the phone line will allow the authorities to gather real-time data on how and where the pandemic is spreading.
“This monitoring will support the exit from lockdown and immediately detect potential outbreak clusters, in a synergistic and complementary way to other existing systems centralised by Public Heath France,” the statement added.
The service has already been trialled seven days by the Service for Urgent Medical Assistance (SAMU) in the Ile de France region, enabling authorities to “confirm its reliability and effectiveness”.
Researchers said that the service allows the population to “actively participate in the fight against the health crisis (…) without any concession on data protection and individual freedoms.”
Applications to help in the fight against the pandemic have been launched in numerous countries, including South Korea and Australia. They allow people to check whether they have been in contact with someone infected with the virus and to track contacts of recently infected people.
But the European Union, which has pioneered data protection and privacy regulations worldwide, is currently grappling with how best to launch such an app and “minimise the processing of personal data”, a recent report from the Commission emphasised.
The approach it champions regarding a COVID-19 app states it ought to be “voluntary”, “privacy-preserving” with data to be “securely encrypted” and “dismantled as soon as no longer needed.”
The AlloCOVID phone line can be reached 24/7 in France at 0 806 800 540.