Filipino community members say better enforcement, more translation needed to address COVID infections

To address the disproportionate numbers of COVID-19 infections among racialized Manitobans, members of the Filipino community say better enforcement of personal protective equipment use and more translated materials in different languages are needed. 

According to a new report released by the province on Monday, more than half of people who tested positive for COVID-19 and reported their ethnicity, identify as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour. 

The report states people identified as “North American Indigenous” made up 17 per cent of the cases, despite making up 13 per cent of Manitoba’s population. 

Filipino people make up seven per cent of the population, but they counted for 12 per cent of the cases, the report says.

Dan Buenaventura, outgoing president of the Filipino Nurses Association of Manitoba, said he’s not surprised by the data. 

“It’s something that is actually happening,” he said.

The report says COVID-19 cases are mostly represented in the food manufacturing, service and transportation industry, followed by the health care sector.

Buenaventura said many members of the Filipino community work in manufacturing and health care, and in some circumstances, even with health regulations in place, they’re not able to maintain a two-metre distance. 

Dan Buenaventura is the president of the Filipino Nurses Association of Manitoba. (Submitted by Dan Buenaventura)

“In health care, it’s almost impossible to be six-feet apart from each other,” said Buenaventura who works at the Health Sciences Centre. 

Buenaventura said in his unit, six staff members have tested positive for the virus and of that number, four are Filipino.

“Hopefully we will see an end to this, now that the vaccine is here,” he said. 

Calls for more translated materials, better enforcement of rules  

Buenaventura said having more public health information translated into Tagalog and other languages can help address some of those disproportionate numbers. 

“That would help a lot in terms of disseminating information and getting more understanding,” he said.

Last year, the province released posters and videos in 13 different languages, telling Manitobans how to celebrate the holidays safely and maintain the fundamentals of public health orders. 

Buenaventura said many Filipino workers have a level of English that’s usable in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean they understand scientific and technical terms, so it would be helpful to release updated information in their mother tongue. 

“Prevention would be much more easy to achieve,” he said. 

Kris Ontong said better enforcement of the rules and PPE is needed to protect Filipino workers. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Kris Ontong, host of the vodcast Barangay Canada, said the province should also ensure that protocols are followed and enough personal protective equipment is provided at workplaces with Filipino workers. 

“Factory workers, migrant workers or farm workers… in some workplaces … they’re not strictly enforcing it,” he said. “Somebody has to be doing the enforcing.” 

Warns of stigmatization 

The Women of Colour Community Leadership Initiative said it welcomes the release of the report and hopes the data will be used to bring positive change to health care. 

But the group warns the report can also further increase stigmatization in Asian communities, particularly for Asian women. 

“People are concerned the release of the data may impose more racism or discrimination in the communities that are already impacted during COVID,” said WCCLI’s president Jennifer Chen. 

Jennifer Chen is the president of the Women of Colour Community Leadership Initiative. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Chen said since the onset of COVID-19, there have been more reports of xenophobia and anti-Asian racism surfacing across the country. Of those reports, 60 per cent are from women.

Chen said many frontline workers come from communities of colour and they should not be stigmatized for doing frontline work. She’s cautioning the public from blaming them for the spread of COVID. 

“We hope the government and the agencies handle the data with cultural sensitivity and make every effort to address the potential discrimination,” Chen said. 

In the province’s report, it states, “it is not race, ethnicity or Indigeneity that may increase the risk of COVID-19 infection. Rather, the structures of society place people at advantage or disadvantage.”

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