From ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines and new research to misinformation and conspiracy theories, it has not been easy keeping up with the coronavirus infodemic.
As most of us attempt to navigate through the scientific jargon and make sense of what a variant is, how mRNA vaccines work, or which mask to wear, getting the right word out is important.
In Canada, the main languages used for all official communications are English and French.
While provinces have made their announcements and public health guidelines available in various languages to cater to those populations that don’t speak English or French, some feel governments could have done more to get that messaging out sooner to racialized communities, which are bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
“Communication with the so-called ethnic groups has to be a proactive process — it can’t be reactive,” said Balpreet Singh, legal counsel and spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
A Statistics Canada report published in October 2020 found that in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, there was additional burden from the COVID-19 disease in neighbourhoods with higher proportions of population groups designated as visible minorities.
The same report also showed that there were noticeable differences in the age-standardized mortality rates depending on the proportion of the neighbourhood population who were South Asian in Toronto.
South Asians make up Canada’s largest visible minority group. There are more than 600,000 Sikhs in the country, according to the WSO, with at least 250,000 in Ontario alone.
“I think the outreach to our community was not where it needed to be for quite some time,” Singh said.
With COVID-19 resources not available in Punjabi in the early days of the pandemic, Singh said the WSO helped translate, contextualize and disseminate public health guidance, reaching out to gurdwaras (places of worship) and international students.
In Nov. 2020, nine months into the pandemic, the South Asian COVID Task Force, a group of medical experts and advocates, was formed to assist South Asian communities across the country.
Such community initiatives have helped raise awareness about things like mask wearing and quarantine, Singh said.
“It’s been largely our own community sort of gathering together and providing that information to ourselves,” he said.
With the help of a grant from the Clinton Foundation and the Canada Service Corps, Sukhmeet Singh Sachal and about 100 youth volunteers were involved in the outreach protect that aimed to deliver the government’s message in a culturally sensitive way.
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“When we started educating them like, you have to stay six feet apart, that’s the same (length) as your turban, then they started understanding it,” Sachal told Global News in a previous interview.
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DIVERSEcity, a B.C-based settlement agency for newcomers, launched a social media campaign last April, sharing video messages about COVID-19 in six different languages, including Mandarin, Arabic, Punjabi, Hindi, Korean and Swahili on their social media pages.
Maureen Chang, an immigrant herself from Taiwan and a settlement and support worker at DIVERSEcity, said last year was difficult not just for the newcomers but for all foreign language speakers.
“We were so concerned about a second wave, so before the holiday season, we wanted to highlight again and remind newcomers (of) those public health measures,” she told Global News.