Government urged to translate COVIDSafe tracing app to reach Australia's diverse communities

The federal government is considering translating the COVIDSafe tracing app into more languages as multicultural communities are urged to get on board.

The Australian Government's new voluntary coronavirus tracing app 'COVIDSafe' is seen on a mobile phone.

The Australian Government's new voluntary coronavirus tracing app 'COVIDSafe' is seen on a mobile phone. Source: AAP

Immigration Minister Alan Tudge says translating the COVIDSafe tracing app into languages other than English is being "looked at" to better reach multicultural communities.

The federal government wants all Australians to sign up to the app, which helps health officials detect people who have come in contact with someone with coronavirus.

But the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia has argued more must be done to communicate the rationale behind the app to people of non-English speaking backgrounds.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge
Source: AAP

Mr Tudge said the government is considering translating the tracing app into more languages when questioned about whether this was available. 

“It’s not at this stage, but it is something we are looking at,” he told SBS Punjabi.

“It absolutely assists in keeping those individuals safer and keeping the community safer.”

Some 1.89 million Australians had downloaded the app as of Monday afternoon.

The Australian app, based on software from Singapore, records the Bluetooth connections a phone makes with others to help track down coronavirus cases.

Data of these interactions are then passed on to state health authorities, helping them contact people at risk of being exposed.

The government has also attempted to allay privacy concerns by promising data won’t be used for any other purpose and must be held in Australia.

FECCA Chief Executive Officer Mohammad Al-Khafaji told SBS News the government needs to work with multicultural communities to explain the app, to overcome possible language barriers.

“It’s really important for people to understand the government reasoning - if people have concerns around privacy issues – those need to be communicated not just in English,” he said.

“The rationale behind this - needs to also be explained in all these other languages.”

Chief Executive Officer of FECCA Mohammad Al-Khafaji speaking via Skype.
Source: SBS

Mr Al-Khafaji has encouraged people to sign up to the app, saying it could help limit outbreaks of COVID-19 within community groups.

“We’ve seen in the UK and the US multicultural communities … are disproportionately represented in the coronavirus cases and also the mortality rate,” he said.

“We think our communities will be greatly affected if there was any outbreak … we want to make sure those people are notified straight away.”

There were some 820,000 people who self-reported they spoke English “not well” or “not at all” in the 2016 census.

In a statement the Department of Home Affairs said information about the COVIDSafe app is being distributed to all community stakeholders.

“Including in community languages, once these are made available,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said community liaison officers are working with a range of cultural, religious and ethnic communities to communicate the health response.

This includes more than 700 engagements focused on COVID-19 over the past month.

But Mr Al-Khafaji warned community groups should not have to bear too much responsibility for passing on public health messages. 

“It’s really important for apps and initiatives and government health messaging to be inclusive of everyone here,” he said.

“Health communication needs to include people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Not just think of multicultural communities as a band aid solution."           


Mr Tudge said he encouraged everyone to sign up to the app to help protect themselves and others, and noted there were “very strict” privacy protections in place.

“It keeps the community safer because if you are notified that you’ve been in contact with a person with coronavirus you’ll be able to …ensure you don’t transmit it onto somebody else,” he said.  

The app detects users within 1.5 metres of each other for 15 minutes to bolster the health response to the pandemic.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at

Published 27 April 2020 at 6:52pm
By Tom Stayner