Red Cross aid in coronavirus-ravaged Europe: health services, neighbourly help and information

Italian Red Cross
Italian Red Cross

The Red Cross is working worldwide to stop the coronavirus pandemic. Also in Europe, Red Cross volunteers play a major role in slowing down the spread of the disease and helping people in the emergency conditions.

The Red Cross emergency appeal

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has launched an emergency appeal of €754 million aimed at helping the most vulnerable people in combating the coronavirus pandemic and coping with its effects.

The Red Cross supports health care services, stores aid supplies, provides information on the pandemic, distributes good practices internationally and distributes cash grants to families around the world.

The Red Cross aims to curb the spread of the disease among people living in conflict areas, for example by supporting health care services and ensuring access to health care for prisoners and those fleeing their homes.

Read more on the International Red Cross website

Katja Kotkavaara, an aid worker of the Finnish Red Cross, has her hands full. She coordinates International Red Cross support for European Red Cross Societies during the coronavirus pandemic. The centre of the pandemic is now in Europe, with more infections than China.

Kotkavaara is closely monitoring the development of the situation, distributing coronavirus-related information and material and supporting and advising 54 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe and nearby areas on coronavirus-related thematic and practical issues.

The International Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal for €754 million to support the actions of the National Societies with the coronavirus pandemic around the world.

‘I am in daily contact with representatives of European National Societies and those in nearby areas and handle support requests related to the Red Cross emergency appeal together with the International Red Cross health team in Budapest,’ Kotkavaara says.

Coordination is necessary so that aid can be effectively directed to where it is most needed. 

Support and information in emergency conditions

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies support the authorities of Europe and nearby areas in many ways with the coronavirus pandemic. The situation and the role of the Red Cross vary from one country to another, but the common goal is to prevent and slow the spread of the coronavirus disease and particularly alleviate the situation of those most vulnerable during the emergency conditions.

 ‘The Red Cross supports the authorities in their own countries. For example, in some countries the Red Cross transports the sick and carries out coronavirus testing.  Typical activities also include sharing information and providing psychosocial support via a helpline or online,’ Kotkavaara lists.

In different countries, Red Cross activities may also include assisting people in quarantine, arranging food and medicine transportation for older people and those living alone, taking people’s temperatures at airports and ports and assisting hospitals in assessing patients’ treatment.

The Red Cross actively raises awareness on the importance of hygiene and distributes messages from the authorities. In order to contain the epidemic, it is essential that people receive correct information on the virus and follow the instructions of the authorities.

The Red Cross has a long experience in epidemics

The International Red Cross is working with the World Health Organization and following its guidelines regarding the coronavirus pandemic and urges National Societies to do the same with their own health authorities.

Special strengths of the Red Cross in combating coronavirus include long experience of epidemics worldwide and an extensive network of local volunteers. Volunteers are present, they know their culture and people trust them.  

‘I am very grateful that I get to work with employees and volunteers of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from different countries. They are very committed and do a great job in a positive atmosphere, even though the situation is challenging. We will pull through this together,’ Kotkavaara says.

Examples of Red Cross aid in Europe:

  • In Italy, more than 600 local branches of the Red Cross are actively involved in combating coronavirus. The Red Cross takes people’s temperatures at airports, aids in the transportation of the sick, assists vulnerable people in accessing food and medicine, operates a 24/7 information hotline and provides psychosocial support. Young immigrant volunteers distribute information via an online radio channel, translate materials into various languages and distribute them at reception centres.
  • The Spanish Red Cross aims to activate more than 40,000 volunteers to offer telephone assistance to nearly a million people, provide basic supplies to 25,000 families and provide 3,000 homeless people with a place to sleep. Thousands of new volunteers have signed up. The organisation conducts coronavirus tests, assists in transporting the sick, provides psychosocial support and has developed an open coronavirus online course that has already been completed by over 220,000 people.
  • In the Baltic Sea region, National Red Cross Societies are actively distributing information and knowledge through the EU-funded BALTPREP project, which aims to develop preparedness and response capacity in the region.
  • The National Red Cross Societies support each other. The Red Cross Society of China has supplied the Italian Red Cross with more than 30 tonnes of medical equipment, including respirators, personal protective equipment and ventilators, and has sent laboratory equipment to Iraq, including 50,000 coronavirus tests.