A lack of translated coronavirus guidelines puts the safety of non-English speakers in the UK at risk, according to a joint letter to the Health Secretary.
The government said it has translated public health information into 25 languages, reaching a “large audience”.
But activists say this is a “limited range of languages” and translations can take weeks to update when advice or rules change.
A charity said the government had so far shown “no commitment” on the issue.
Over four million people in England and Wales do not consider English their primary language, including more than 860,000 who speak little or no English, according to the latest official figures.
In the UK, 88 languages other than English are spoken as the main language.
A government spokesperson said it “would not be possible” to provide translations from all of these languages, but that it had translated some of its “key messages” on the coronavirus into the languages most commonly spoken in the country. United Kingdom.
No translation of the word “stay alert”
But the translations have become obsolete as the guidelines have been updated.
For example, in March, the government provided advice on social distancing in 11 languages, including Welsh, Urdu, Arabic and Bengali. But that advisory was withdrawn on May 1 as directions changed, and the current guide to social distancing for England – which is titled ‘stay alert and safe’ – has not been translated by the government.
Other current guidelines that have not been translated by the government include information about the NHS Test and Trace program and the rules on wearing masks.
The government has said it is “committed to ensuring that people across the UK receive the information they need to stay safe” during the pandemic, and has made coronavirus messages accessible “to a large audience ”.
Patients “unable to protect themselves”
About 30 local authorities, groups of public health leaders and charities have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick to urge the government to produce and continue to update information in more languages.
Doctors of the World, which coordinated the letter, runs clinics in London that provide medical care and information to ‘excluded people’ such as non-English speaking migrants, asylum seekers, sex workers, the homeless and people with low literacy skills.
The charity said it has translated the coronavirus advice into documents, audio guides and videos in more than 60 languages because the government “has completely forgotten and left out this group of patients” who are therefore “at increased risk of catch the virus, and are unable to do so. protect themselves and their families ”.
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Doctors of the World’s policy and advocacy officer Anna Miller said there was “no commitment” from Public Health England or the Department of Health when her charity asked. , ahead of the UK lockdown in March, what resources could be provided for non-English speakers.
She said trying to highlight the “blind spot” was like “banging your head against a brick wall”.
“It’s just an absolute lack of communication, or a refusal to communicate, on the part of the central government, which has forced us to continue and to do [the translations] as if the government did not exist, ”she said.
“Getting public health information to everyone should have been the most fundamental first thing in the government’s response. And “everyone” includes people who don’t speak English. “
Top 10 major languages in England and Wales
Other than English (and Welsh in Wales)
The resources produced by Doctors of the World have been downloaded approximately 60,000 times in the UK, including by law enforcement and groups hosting asylum seekers.
Local authorities are providing translations of some of their own guidelines, but Ms Miller said Médecins du Monde had been told by several local authorities that they “could not keep up with rapid changes in guidelines,” which prompted reports inconsistent and obsolete.
The letter, sent Monday night and seen by the BBC, called for central government leadership to maintain “the quality and consistency” of public health messages.
He added that it was Mr. Hancock’s “statutory duty” to provide translated resources.
He said: “As lockdown measures are relaxed and guidelines change regularly, it is neither viable nor practical for local authorities and civil society to meet this need. ”
The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.