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Automated COVID-19 robot caller notifies 800 contacts in first week

Smartphone. Photo is illustrative.
Smartphone. Photo is illustrative. Source: ERR

An automated coronavirus close contact notification dialer rolled out last week has already made over 800 calls, saving hundreds of hours' work in the process.

The system was developed by the Health and Welfare Information Systems Center (TEHIK), and operates in conjunction with the Health Board (Terviseamet) to inform individuals who have been in close contact with a carrier of the coronavirus.

Head of the Health Board's northern district director Ester Öpik said that the automated caller has also started checking up on people who had been notified of their close contact last week, to ask if they had developed potential coronavirus symptoms since then.

"If the person feels unwell, they are asked to immediately contact their family doctor," Öpik said, adding that communication those who have taken ill gets taken over by a human being, i.e. a Health Board staffer.

The robot caller was created to assist Health Board officials after the number of people needing first-time coronavirus contact notification rose sharply last week, with over 500 individuals needing calling, and each call taking an average of at least 15 minutes.

TEHIK director Katrin Reinhold said that the robot's success rate is 80 percent, meaning the bulk of recipients listen to the information provided them in its entirety.

The information is provided in three languages, Estonian, Russian and English.

"TEHIK has the capability to also expand the service to other counties, if it proves necessary," Reinhold said.

The service currently only runs in the northern disict, which includes Harju County, the most populous region of the country.

Recipients get a text message alert that a call is impending, which follows 10-15 minutes later to give them a theoretical chance of seeing the message and being primed for the call.

The autodialer informs the recipient that they have been in recent close contact with someone COVID-19-positive.

If the person cannot be reached – the robot makes two to three extra calls on top of the original one – the matter is passed on to the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) who will deal with the outstanding communication.

"Close contact" is generally defined as being within two meters' distance of an infected individual for a minimum of 15 minutes.

The optional "HOIA" app, developed by TEHIK, the social affairs ministry and several private sector firms, performs essentially the same task via in-phone notification. As of three weeks ago, "HOIA" had been downloaded over 100,000 times.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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