UK’s Covid-19 strategy hit by lack of advice translation
Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi are among major languages the UK government translates official communication, but translation services have not been able to keep up with frequent virus-related updates. Some key advice is only available in English.Updated: Jul 28, 2020 16:05 IST
Over 8.6 lakh people in England and Wales speak little to no English, but lack of translation in various languages – including some Indian – is adversely affecting official measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners said on Tuesday.
Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi are among major languages the UK government translates official communication, but translation services have not been able to keep up with frequent virus-related updates. Some key advice is only available in English.
Campaign group Doctors of the World UK and other organisations joined several local authorities, including the Greater London Authority, to write to health secretary Matt Hancock and housing secretary Robert Jenrick, highlighting the issue.
The letter says: “We write to raise our concern about the lack of availability of Covid-19 public health guidance in languages other than English, which is preventing people in England who do not speak or read English well from accessing essential public health information and limiting their ability to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe”.
“At present the ‘Stay alert: what you can and cannot do’ guidance and information on NHS test and trace is not available in any languages other than English”.
The group said that so far it had translated UK-wide guidance into over 60 languages, which have been accessed by people nearly 60,000 times. It cited a recent report by Public Health England that called for “culturally competent Covid-19 education and prevention campaigns.”
The letter states that during the pandemic local authorities and civil society organisations have made efforts to translate guidance, but as lockdown measures are eased and guidance changes regularly, it is not sustainable or practical for them to meet this need.
One of the reasons for the recent spike in cases in the east Midlands city of Leicester was official guidance not reaching thousands of Indian and other non-white people unfamiliar with English, particularly those working in the large number of garment manufacturing factories.
The letter says: “The production of accessible and translated public health information for the public during a public health emergency is a central part of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s statutory duty to protect the nation’s health and wellbeing, and to address health inequalities in England”.
“To tackle the huge challenge of Covid-19 together, it is critical that everyone is supported to stay healthy and included in overall public health measures. We urgently seek reassurance that the government will consider and include non-English speakers in its response to Covid-19 and commit to produce and maintain accessible Covid-19 guidance in languages that reflect England’s multilingual communities”, it adds.