Belgian video-calling robots to keep elderly connected during coronavirus

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[March 17, 2020]  BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian robotics firm is lending a fleet of robots to elderly care homes to help residents stay connected after the government banned visitors to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The company, Zorabots, said it would initially lend 60 of its "James" robots to the homes but could make hundreds more available. The 1.2 metre-tall butler-style machines can navigate rooms and connect video calls through Facebook messenger.

Belgium's government has banned visitors from elderly care homes, alongside measures including limiting shop opening times and closing schools to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has infected 1,085 people in the country and killed five.

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"We said, in the coming weeks we will not be able to sell, the stock is just going to sit here. Instead of letting the stock sit here, why not put it to use in a good way?" Zorabots co-CEO Tommy Deblieck told Reuters.

Nele Vandewiele, director of residential care for the Ostend city government, said the robots could help residents who were missing contact with the outside world and their families.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

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