On 31 December 2019, China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of several cases of unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million inhabitants in the central Hubei province. On January 7, officials announced they had identified a new virus belonging to the coronavirus family. This new coronavirus spread through proximity between people. More specifically, one can become infected by inhaling droplets coming from the cough or sneeze of infected individuals, or by touching a surface where these droplets landed and then touching one's eyes, nose or mouth.
On March 11, WHO declared the new coronavirus a pandemic and gave it a name, COVID-19. As of April 14, COVID-19 has spread to at least 180 countries and territories. There are 1,925,553 confirmed cases and 119,718 deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak.
Similar to other industries, the interpretation industry has already started to experience fallout from the pandemic as business meetings, international conferences and exhibitions are cancelled or postponed until the epidemic is contained. On the other hand, there is a big need for medical interpreters to help hospitals, airports, and public organizations in the effort to screen and diagnose possibly infected individuals as well as treat confirmed COVID-19 patients.
In this article, we would like to provide some recommendations applicable to working conditions for both clients and interpreters during this crisis.
As the Coronavirus is propagating around the globe, meeting and conference organizers must think of contingency plans for the scenario where the attendees are not able or allowed to travel. The health and safety of communities and attendees must be the first priority for every organization that hosts an event. Yet events require a huge investment in terms of time, money and effort, so cancelling them often entails an enormous cost. What are the alternatives when your on-site meeting, seminar or conference cannot take place?
1. Take the meeting online
When the event objective is to share information and gather questions or feedback from participants, it is actually quite easy to organize it online. All presenters and audience members connect via the internet from wherever they are and experience the presentations in their own language. They can interact by leaving chat messages. This type of multilingual webinar can be set up very quickly. You can keep the original event dates and hence be sure that people will attend, as they have already reserved the time for you in their diaries. The conference interpreters that you had booked for your in-person event can also be trained so that they can interpret during your online event. This will mitigate at least some of the financial consequences of the cancellation of your on-site meetings, seminars or conferences. However, the disadvantage of this method is that some attendees may not be computer-savvy, and Internet speed may not stable throughout the working session.
Here are some free video conferencing softwares which include the ability for free screen sharing and setting up virtual conference rooms for attendees to dial in and collaborate for your consideration:
2. Discuss over the phone
For shorter meetings or updates that do not require much interactions, a multilingual conference call may be what you need. All participants dial into a telephone number that connects to an operator that links telephone lines. It usually allows multiple people to connect so you can swiftly reach a wide audience. However, the disadvantage of this method is that the number of attendees may be limited and you will not be able to share your webcam or screen.
1. On-site interpreters
Interpreters who typically work face to face have been hit the hardest by containment measures as events and conferences across all industries are postponed or canceled. If you are still looking for interpretation work during COVID-19 outbreak, here are some best practices you can consider:
- For real-time or simultaneous interpreters:
- Remember that social distancing also applies to booths. Try to reduce the number of interpreters in a given booth at any time as far as possible. Or ask the client to provide two separate booths.
- If two booths are not possible, larger booths also allow for greater social distancing. You should also position yourselves at least 2 meters away from the other interpreter.
- If possible, please use your own headset.
- Disinfect contact surfaces (desk, console, keyboard, computer, mouse etc.) prior to and after usage.
- If you need to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose and ensure that you are at least 2 meters away from other people.
- Wear a mask throughout your interpretation assignment.
2. Remote interpreters