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COVID-19 translation concerns hamper public health messaging: Coun. Chahal

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal raised concerns this week on the accuracy and consistency of COVID-19 and public health information translated into foreign languages.

In council on Monday, Chahal said there was confusion in the public, particularly among the northeast Calgary communities he represents. It mainly around the clarity of COVID-19 vaccines and public health messaging.

“There’s confusing messaging directly out of Alberta Health’s website on the translations used,” Chahal said.

“It looks like they’ve used Google Translate rather than a translator to translate messaging, and that’s causing problems.”

Chahal also said that if information from Alberta Health is unreliable, municipalities expected to relay the same information would only escalate the problems.

“We provided an information circular to our constituents regarding COVID-19, and just to be very consistent we had gotten the information off Alberta Health’s website that was translated into various languages,” Chahal said.

“The piece that we put out, community members told us it was not written well, and it was very difficult to understand. Through that translation process and comprehension, it just didn’t make sense.”

Chahal said his office did some research showing the use of Google Translate. Some residents who read the Punjabi translation said the information wasn’t clear or accurate, he said.

Perfect translation is impossible: Birjandian

Calgary Christian Immigration Society CEO Fariborz Birjandian said it’s impossible to have a perfect translation from English into other languages. It’s important, however, to ensure distributed information is as accurate as possible.

“Every time you do a translation of a document, obviously there has to be a quality assurance process to ensure the content is expressed [properly] in the language it’s being translated into,” said Birjandian.

“You’ll never have 100 per cent perfect translation. The question becomes are we OK with 95 per cent accuracy or 98 per cent or 70 per cent accuracy.”

Birjandian suggested employing qualified persons who have a stronger command over English, as well as the language any information is to be translated into. That would help overcome translation issues, he said.

Alberta Health said information on Alberta.ca is translated by a firm of certified human translators.

Tom McMillan, Assistant Director of Communication, wrote in an email that any translation errors should be communicated to Alberta Health. They want to correct any of these issues.

Vaccine information unclear, Chahal said

Chahal’s concerns raised regarding the role of COVID-19 vaccines touched on the vaccine’s efficacy.

“Is this vaccination or is it immunization? There’s a lot of confusion in the public, particularly in many of the communities I represent,” he said.

“[Is] this vaccine is going to protect me and prevent me from getting others sick.’ There’s some inconsistent messaging that’s coming across to Calgarians.”

Alberta Health said evidence is still emerging about the long-term immunity provided by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

They have thus far proven to work “very well” in preventing illness due to COVID-19, the province said.