Ms Pazzano put other questions to Professor Senanayake that her colleagues at SBS Radio had heard posed by their multicultural communities.
Will sunbathing keep me safe? Will drinking alcohol or hot water or lemon water clear my throat of the virus? Do 5G mobile networks spread COVID-19?
She also asked about a rumour Cedric Yin-Cheng, the founder of gay advocacy group ANTRA, says began spreading in Mandarin-language media in February: can the anti-HIV drug PrEP protect against coronavirus? (Answer: This (myth) probably came about because there was another HIV medication that was postulated as having activity against COVID-19, however a randomised control trial showed disappointing results.)
Ms Pazzano says the teams who work for SBS’s 68 language services have daily interactions with their audiences via talkback, Facebook and some people who call to provide feedback and even ask for information.
“It emerged clearly there were myths and misconceptions in relation to how to prevent and cure the coronavirus,” she says.
Ms Pazzano interviewed Professor Senanayake to write her Q&A – Busting medical myths and misconceptions around coronavirus – in English and Italian. It was later translated into a number of other languages.
The crucial role multicultural media plays in conveying information about COVID-19 to Australians who speak a language other than English at home has been recognised by the government as it scrambles to respond to a second spike in cases in Victoria.
SBS last week reported it had received a phone call from the Department of Health wanting to utilise its in-language radio broadcasts to ensure the government’s coronavirus health and safety messages were getting across.
“Some of the communities it is looking to target include those of African heritage, particularly the South Sudanese-born Australians, it also mentioned Indian, Cambodian, Indonesian and Sinhalese language groups, also Arabic, Turkish, Vietnamese, Italian and Mandarin language speakers were areas of concern where they wanted to ensure the COVID-19 safety messages were getting through,” SBS journalist Abby Dinham reported.
Mandi Wicks, the Director of Audio and Language Content at SBS, said SBS was initially created in 1975 to inform multicultural communities about the federal government’s plans to change the health system by introducing the Medibank scheme.
“Ironically, 45 years later, we are working overtime to try to communicate health messages to the five million Australians who don’t speak English at home,” she said.
Ms Wicks said at the core of its offering was the SBS multilingual coronavirus portal in 63 languages at www.sbs.com.au/coronavirus.
Islamic Council of Victoria vice president Adel Salman said multicultural newspapers had also played a key role in communicating information to their readers.
He pointed to Al Wasat, a magazine serving Australia’s Muslim community, which published a 14-page COVID-19 guide in Arabic and English.
The publication includes basic protective measures, mythbusters, when and how to use masks, a business guide to coronavirus, and quotes former vice president of the Islamic Council of Queensland Professor Shahjahan Khan saying the virus has seen the whole world embrace aspects of Islam such as cleanliness and quarantine.
“Al Wasat is a first-hand witness to how the Muslim community respected the COVID-19 related restrictions and bans from the first day,” says editor-in-chief Fawaz Chawk.
“This is evident by the prompt action to close mosques even before the restrictions to places of worship came into effect.”
Dario Nelli, the managing editor of Italian language newspaper Il Globo in Melbourne and its Sydney counterpart La Fiamma, said the pandemic had seen a spike in its readership and subscriptions.
He said readers were hungry for information about both the crisis in Italy – which they provided using Italian newswires – and the local situation.
“They may not be able to fully understand mainstream media coverage which is why we have special interviews with doctors from the Italian community,” Mr Nelli said.
Mr Nelli said the governments had provided the papers with resources on COVID-19 and some paid advertising.
However, he believes the federal government in particular could have used Il Globo and La Fiamma a bit more, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, to convey its COVID-19 messages.
“We are at the heart of the community,” Mr Nelli said.
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.