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How Migrants In Victoria's COVID-19 Hot Spots Are "Getting The Message" But Perhaps Not So "Quickly"

The surge in Victorian cases is amongst suburbs with large culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

Melbourne woman and daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Huong Truong, has lived in the Brimbank local government area her whole life.

This week it’s been in the spotlight as one of six Victorian COVID-19 “hot spots” – some of which, like Brimbank, have large culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations.

As some community leaders have scrutinised the government’s “ad hoc” approach to relaying coronavirus information to these ethnic groups, Truong has said Brimbank’s Vietnamese community is “getting the message”, however “the difficulty is how quickly they get the message”.

According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data collected in 2016, the most common ancestries in Brimbank were Vietnamese 13.3%, Australian 10.3%, English 9.7%, Italian 5.4% and Chinese 5.4%.

“I don’t think the older generation, like my mum’s around 60 but her parents’ generation, would have any access to internet,” Truong, a former Greens MP, told HuffPost Australia, explaining her mother lives just across the road from her, while her aunties live in “two or three” neighbouring streets.

Daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Huong Truong lives in one of Melbourne's COVID-19 'hot spots', local government area Brimbank. Huong pictured here with her son. 
Daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Huong Truong lives in one of Melbourne's COVID-19 'hot spots', local government area Brimbank. Huong pictured here with her son. 

“It’s word of mouth and family connections, and younger people like myself letting them know what’s going on or clarifying misinformation that’s been around.”

Multicultural Resources

The Victorian government’s Health and Human Services website has COVID-19 information posters translated in 53 languages, and a coronavirus hotline is also available for interpreter services.

The country’s multicultural broadcaster SBS is also communicating vital public health information to CALD communities during the pandemic in over 60 languages. This has been helpful in Truong’s mother’s case, as she listens to the SBS Vietnamese radio bulletin every evening.

“So somehow they get the information and if any of us [me and my cousins] hear something that’s a bit off, we clarify,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of Vietnamese doctors amongst us who circulate that information too.”

Gaps In Knowledge

However, there are potentially some gaps in COVID-19 information getting across.

“There was a period early on when my mum was obsessed with hand sanitiser. I was like, ‘You can wash your hands with soap. Apparently that’s the best thing’,” said Truong.

She also said there’s “practical things like understanding that not all masks are created equal. Or that the masks aren’t to protect you from other people, they’re to protect other people from you.

“That kind of stuff needs more clarification because I see, I go to the local shopping centres in [suburb of] Sunshine where I do my local shop, and predominantly the Vietnamese and South-East Asian people, they’re the most vigorous with their masks.

“So I do wonder if they’re thinking that they’re protecting themselves or other people. Because it’s really about that spread of particulates and bodily fluids whereas they might be thinking that it’s just protecting people.”

Victoria recently tightened some of their COVID-19 social distancing restrictions after a surge in cases. It’s unclear if all CALD groups are aware of rule changes.

“I think people are getting the message, the difficulty is how quickly they get the message.”

- Huong Truong

“I think the difficulty is talking about how quickly people get information when, ‘Oh next Monday the restrictions are eased. Oh wait a minute, they’re not. Some are and some aren’t.’ That’s the kind of stuff that gets a bit messy,” said Truong.

Overall, she commended “ethnic community media” catering to non-English speaking people, and said “I think most communities are pretty good at self-organising that information and looking out for each other.

“Information gets around and it’s not only through community leaders.”

Mohammad Al-Khafaji, CEO of Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia (FECCA)
Mohammad Al-Khafaji, CEO of Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia (FECCA)

Community Engagement

Meanwhile some believe the government engaging community leaders is key to adequately informing migrant groups during this pandemic.

“I think where the pit falls are is governments, state and federal, did not engage and consult with the peak bodies that are connected well within the community,” Mohammad Al-Khafaji, CEO of Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia (FECCA) told HuffPost Australia.

Al-Khafaji said it’s these community organisations that “can provide sound advice quickly to ensure that the translated materials or whatever the message is, gets to the people who need it the most”.

““At the moment the process seems to be a little bit ad hoc, there is no consultation on any of this.””

- Mohammad Al-Khafaji, CEO of Federation of Ethnic Community Councils Australia (FECCA)

On Wednesday Victoria’s Chief Health Minister Brett Sutton told reporters that health authorities are “meeting with a whole number of ethnic community representatives”.

“We have always advocated to engage with our intelligence team around where are our cases, what communities do they represent and to use all mechanisms to reach into them,” he said, adding it’s a “complex process” and “not a simple case of pamphlets and campaign materials and banner to reach into communities”.

Family Structures And Economic Factors Play A Part

Molina Asthana, Victorian Convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance, said it’s not just about CALD communities not being informed, but their lifestyle can also come into play.

Australia has more than a million temporary visa holders who don’t have access to welfare payments, Medicare or the recent JobSeeker/JobKeeper schemes.

“Ultimately it lies on individuals to do the right thing, to follow rules, to practice social distancing where they can and isolate when necessary,” Asthana told HuffPost Australia.

“But as many members of the multilingual communities work in essential services and financially may not be able to afford to remain out of the work force for too long, some kind of incentives to get tested and payments if out of work, would motivate them to get tested or quarantine if required.”

Molina Asthana, Victorian Convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance
Molina Asthana, Victorian Convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance

Truong also highlighted many Asian families live in ‘joint family’ structures where often three generations stay in the same house.

These cultural traditions can make it harder to adhere to health authorities’ requests for younger people to stay away from the elderly, who are more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 symptoms. However, she said the Vietnamese community is “really good at keeping each other accountable”.

“A lot of us live with elderly people. Before they passed, my grandparents lived with my aunties or my mum,” she said.

“They’re not in nursing homes so we’re conscious of the risks we put on our family members, extended family members who live with us. All of my aunties are now over 60 and my mum, so we’re super conscious.

“If I do do a shop, I make sure I’ve got my mask and wash my hands. I think we all get that.”

COVID-19 In Victoria

Melbourne family group clusters have grown overnight, with Victoria recording 33 new cases of coronavirus.

Coronavirus hot spots include Brimbank, Casey, Cardinia, Darebin, Hume and Moreland. Brimbank, Darebin and Moreland particularly have large migrant populations.

“Today we begin our suburban testing blitz, our plan to ensure we have all the information and insights we need,” Premier Daniel Andrews told media on Thursday.

“This targeted blitz across ten priority suburbs represents one of the biggest testing efforts ever.”

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