The prefectural government of Fukushima launched a free multilingual coronavirus consultation service Monday for foreign residents, becoming the first prefecture in Japan to offer such a service via the Line messaging app, it said.

The move is in response to the need of foreign trainees under Japan's technical internship program and international students who have smartphones but cannot afford a mobile carrier service, according to the local government in northeastern Japan.

People seeking advice can reach the 24/7 helpline, available in 19 languages including English, Chinese and Spanish, by registering their Line IDs and using the free call function of the app to speak with public health nurses and other professionals via an interpreter.

The prefecture opened in December a free COVID-19 telephone hotline for foreign residents.

While prefectural officials were visiting companies and vocational schools to inform people of the opening of the hotline, they learned that many of residents were unable to make phone calls because they relied on free Wi-Fi for their smartphone services.