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Alba Iulia
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Impact of COVID-19 on Filipino-Australians tackled in a roundtable forum

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A roundtable discussion was held online recently to discuss the impact of the coronavirus to the Filo community.

Notably in attendance were the Minister for Multicultural Affairs Hon Ros Spence, Victorian Multicultural (VMC) Chair Vivienne Nguyen and Infectious Disease Specialist from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Prof Paul Johnson for the government panel. 

Hon Ros Spence discussed the government support for multicultural communities, including budget concerns, the availability of translated materials on COVID-19 and the establishment of the CALD Communities Task Force.

Spence articulated the initial funding of $11.3 million for multicultural and multifaith communities, and the additional $14.3 million allocation, in which $6.9 million is set aside for multicultural organisations which work closely with targeted stakeholders. Another $2 million is earmarked for translation and interpreting services. 

To help shape better programs for multicultural communities, Hon Spence also emphasized putting together the CALD Communities Task Force to be headed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet. It will have representatives from VMC and other key government departments.  

Community concerns amidst the pandemic

The Filipino-Australian community leaders voiced their concerns about aged care, support for the international students and further protection of health care workers, a significant portion of whom are from the community.

Aged care

Some issues brought fore about aged care include the difficulty in accessing digital service or a hotline to get help on COVID matters. This was pointed out by Filipino Community Council of Victoria Inc President Marlon de Leon who lamented the difficulty of reaching out to the elderly these days and suggested something less intimidating for the elderly to use. 

Nguyen noted the concern and acknowledged the difficulty of using the 1800 hotline if English is not the first language. She says further, “If there is a need to support the broader Filipino community in order to better support the senior citizens, we can take this further and discuss with you to work out the recommendations we can put forward to the CALD Communities Task Force or for consideration.” 

Australian Filipino Community Services volunteer Gabby Ocampo recommends appropriate communication for seniors. He said that the elderly suffering from dementia need to speak to someone who knows their language. He suggested communication to be available in the following leading Filipino languages—Tagalog, Cebuano, Bicolano, Ilocano, Pampango, Ilonggo and Pangasinense.

READ MORE: Filipinos among the highest number of COVID infections in Victoria

International students

A point brought up in the meeting was the support for international students, or not getting government support supposedly allocated for them. Ness Gavanzo expressed her thoughts regarding students not being able to access aid because they were not able to produce evidence of eligibility. Nguyen said that VMC is coordinating with appropriate offices to get clarification on the matter. 

Similarly, Liz Quimora from 5B’s Humanitarian Services also asked for funding support from the government to enable them to provide the basic needs of international students.

The organisation draws from the Quimoras’ own funds as well as donations from families and friends to sustain the assistance.

Nguyen forwarded the concern to VMC’s John Kouvelas and followed up with CALD Communities Task Force for crafting recommendations.

Support for health care workers

Acting Consul General Atty Anthony Mandap talked about the risks to frontliners, especially for those working in hospitals, clinics and aged care facilities. He queried the panel about enhanced protection for them.

Prof Paul Johnson commented about COVID-19 being a new virus, and that “we are learning and adapting and trying to get better.” He also assured the attendees that “a lot of extra work is being done to make sure that the protecting equipment matches the risk.” 

Elena Hofmayer, meanwhile put forward a question regarding the future of healthcare workers, especially if they happen to contract COVID-19 in the process. She asked about discrimination against them later on when they seek employment.

Prof Johnson stated that COVID-19 is an RNA virus from which you recover completely. Those who have previously been infected with COVID, including nurses, were allowed to get back to work, he further stated. 

Other issues discussed were mental health, domestic violence, effective communication for young people and coordination with the CALD Task Force. 

MP member for Cranbourne Pauline Richards gave the closing remarks and acknowledged the participation of the community leaders in the meeting, as well as the “extraordinary gifts that the Filipino-Australian Community has brought to the state.”

Richards also gave a good word about the community, especially coming from an area where a lot of Filipino-Australians reside.

“I am very conscious and very aware that if not for this astonishing and important community, we would all be poorer. We would all be cared for with a lot less generosity of spirit and a lot less altruism,” Richards said. 

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