Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at the legislature. There are calls for the provincial government to provide translations of the updates in languages other than English. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at the legislature. There are calls for the provincial government to provide translations of the updates in languages other than English. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Interpreters for B.C.’s COVID updates would boost awareness of pandemic protocols, advocate says

Kulpreet Singh says province should provide interpreters for languages other than English.

To reach more people from diverse backgrounds, the province should be hiring non-English-language interpreters for Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix’s COVID-19 press conferences, a B.C. public health advocate says.

Kulpreet Singh, the founder of the South Asian Mental Health Alliance and an advocate for equity in public health, says timely interpretations of public health messages in languages other than English would increase public awareness about COVID-19 and what must be done to reduce its spread.

“I think there definitely has been a gap in communication in terms of the COVID-19 press conferences and the overdose crisis updates,” Singh said. “I feel that on the provincial government level, if we had had interpreters from the first day back in March to now, we would have had a population that was much more well-versed in the protocols.”

Across B.C., there are more than 1.3 million people for whom English is not their first language, and more than 700,000 who mostly speak a language other than English at home. In the Fraser Health region, where COVID-19 rates have been highest, more than 370,000 people speak a language other than English most often at home.

“Obviously, on a higher, government level you can’t have all languages available, but [you should try] to cover as much of the population in a basic way,” Singh said. He pointed to the effectiveness of sign-language interpretation of the press conferences. “In the same way, for people who are from different language backgrounds, it would improve understanding.”

Thus far, communication in other languages has been limited to written translations of government press releases and statements. Those are mostly confined to government and health authority websites that aren’t heavily frequented by the general public, although they are used by non-English media in their reports.

Fairly recently, Fraser Health has begun posting more social media messages in a variety of languages other than English.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Singh was quick to applaud those efforts.

“Fraser Health has been providing a lot of their infographics in diverse languages and also customizing them for different cultural concepts, like how to wear a mask with a hijab, how to wear a mask with a turban,” he said. “I think it was a delayed reaction, but I’m really happy to see they were picking up on it. I think it should become a standard. It should not be an afterthought.”

But he says there continues to be an important gap in the lack of interpretation for the much-watched public health briefings.

“Multilingual interpretation of provincial press conferences should be a standard, rather than just having written translations,” Singh said. “What happens with the written translations is they are provided on the government website, but the average British Columbian doesn’t access the government press release website. To reach the common public, we have to get a little bit more creative and use Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and provide more audio and video in different languages.”

Singh said the situation also underscores the need for more diversity among government workers, and more people who can spot and address gaps before they are obvious.

“Equity and diversity is about making health promotion accessible, which in turn will save lives, so it has a real on-the-ground impact.”

Working with community leaders is important and vital, he said. But he said health officials also should be working to directly connect the public with the information they need during the pandemic. That includes both in providing interpreters for high-profile press conferences, and providing more information that can be shared through social channels.

“When it comes to official information – especially in this era when we are seeing information being changed or manipulated, when we see fake news or people spreading information that may not be reliable – we are looking for reliable information during an uncertain time from the government, if the government can directly provide it in those languages, rather than relying on health authorities alone or community leaders alone, that would make a difference, because then we know it’s coming from the source.”

Asked about its efforts to reach South Asian communities, a Fraser Health spokesperson says the health authority has been creating shareable information and resources in a range of languages, including Punjabi, Hindi, Farsi and Simplified Chinese. The spokesperson also said Fraser Health has provided translated materials to religious organizations, private schools, soccer clubs, Halal stores, and non-profits that provide services to the South Asian community. They’ve also offered workshops to non-profits that work with newcomers to Canada to help keep them updated on the latest guidelines.

An email from a Ministry of Health spokesperson said the government “shares public health information in as many ways and as many languages as possible, and pointed to translated media statements. The News has asked if the ministry has any intention of providing live interpreters.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Japanese Canadian citizens being transferred into waiting trucks outside Hope Station House. Photograph courtesy of the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre.
Public hearing will see 123 letters in support of saving Hope’s historic train station

Hearing set for May 10 to help council decide on future of Hope’s Station House

Gordon Cook
SLIDESHOW: Hope springs to life in pictures

A collection of images from the Standard and its readers

Chilliwack volunteer drivers are needed to help get cancer patients back and forth to Abbotsford (shown here), Surrey and Vancouver cancer clinics. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Volunteer drivers needed to expand cancer driver program to Chilliwack

Drivers will need to commit to one full day of driving, or two half days each week

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of May 9

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Winnie Peters, centre, spoke about the loss of two husbands over the years, both of who were murdered. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls event in Hope on May 5, 2021 included prayers for men who have been killed as well. (Jessica Peters/ Hope Standard)
Red dresses hang in Hope’s Memorial Park in remembrance

Group gathers for National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

Vancouver Giants celebrated a Justin Sourdif goal Saturday night in Kamloops. Giants dropped a 3-1 decision to Kamloops, a game that clinched the 2020-21 B.C. Division banner for the Blazers. (Allen Douglas/special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Vancouver Giants drop 3-1 decision to Kamloops

Third-period rally should have come sooner, said coach of Langley-based team

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country’s crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
IHIT investigating after man killed in Burnaby shooting

Police looking for more information on fatal shooting

After Bobby Henderson apologized online for his comments to a Toronto reporter, the Langley Rivermen announced that he was no longer team coach and general manager and in fact, had ‘parted ways’ with the franchise in March. (file/Twitter)
Former Langley Rivermen coach and GM apologizes for comments to Toronto reporter

Bobby Henderson blames stress due to the pandemic for his ‘disparaging’ remarks

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Most Read