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Ethnic groups move to plug gaps in COVID messaging

For instance, a report published last month by the National COVID-19 Health and Research Advisory Committee raised concerns about the “ad-hoc” response to migrants and other high risk groups.

Also last month, a survey of 200 people released by Melbourne not-for-profit community organisation Cohealth contained worrying signs, finding that almost 22 per cent of their clients did not understand COVID-19 information, or had not received it at all.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.Credit: Joe Armao

In a bid to ensure the Muslim community was properly engaged, the Islamic Council has held a number of forums in recent weeks, inviting Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and other government officials to speak directly with the council’s 70-odd member organisations. These messages were in turn passed on to the broader community.

Sudanese Community Association chairman Saturnino Onyala said that that community-based word-of-mouth was also how many Sudanese families received their information about social distancing and the dangers of the pandemic more broadly.


“Many of our people only understand their local language, so the community members tell them: this is what the government is saying,” he said.

“What I would advocate for is if the government could allocate certain funds for news broadcasts to be translated into Sudanese Arabic, either on mainstream TV or through YouTube.”

Chinese Community Council of Victoria president Li Zhang said that local Chinese media had played a big role in facilitating COVID-19 information, but added: “I don’t think it’s practical to expect the government to translate everything, particularly as things change so quickly. So, it’s important for our own Chinese-language media to do the right thing and deliver those messages.”

The comments came as Victoria ramped up its efforts to contain a spike across Melbourne, with confirmed cases including family members, hotel workers, returned travellers and a primary school student.

Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria chairman Eddie Micallef attributed the rise to complacency across the general population once restrictions eased, but welcomed any increased efforts to give more coronavirus support to multicultural Australians.

Coronavirus information has been translated into 53 languages, a government spokesman said, and officials are now conducting broader community engagement and education through outreach, doorknocks and calls in coronavirus hotspot areas, which are being delivered appropriately for diverse communities.

“We are throwing everything we have at this,” Professor Sutton said on Thursday as the Premier announced an unprecedented suburban testing blitz.

However, the Chief Health Officer declined to be drawn on the causes of certain clusters, including reports that one family cluster of at least 14 cases in Melbourne’s north and outer south-east has been linked to a gathering in Coburg held to celebrate Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month on the weekend of May 23 and 24.

“We wouldn’t give the particular details of why any family came together for a social gathering,” he said. “Any gathering that brings people in close contact is a risk of transmission.”

Asked about the matter on Thursday, the Islamic Council’s Mr Salman said he had no evidence of an outbreak being linked to Eid.

“Even if you were to accept that there was a large family gathering in contravention of social distancing restrictions, the timeline doesn’t make sense. The Eid was celebrated on the May 23. That’s over four weeks prior (to case in question).”

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