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We’re all in this together | Activities from National Societies | COVID-19 in war-torn countries

2 April 2020

We are all in this together

Hi everyone,

Wherever you are, I hope you’re taking good care of yourselves as we go through this strange and challenging time together. With the changing situation, it’s easy to get caught up with the latest in the news and social media, but remember to take breaks and take care of your mental health wellbeing at the same time.

While we are working from home and learning the different ways to stay connected through technology, songs or messages, don’t forget to also keep in touch with your neighbours, friends and family members. Pick up the phone, have a virtual coffee meetup and check in on your loved ones every now and then. 

And remember that we are all in this together.

Photo: Netherlands Red Cross set up temporary general practitioner’s offices in a sports centre to relieve some of the pressure on the regular GP’s offices. Red Cross volunteers are the first point of contact for patients. They will check whether people who arrive have an appointment and will show them the way to the consultation rooms.

National Societies around the world are all responding to this COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. Here are some of the activities that are currently underway.

  • Italy has so far experienced some of the most heartbreaking effects of the outbreak, with the President of the IFRC and Italian Red Cross reinforcing the desperate need for effective isolation measures following so many deaths, including that of a Red Cross volunteer. The Italian people have stepped up with 24,000 people signing up to a program for new community volunteers to help meet their massive needs, as Italian Red Cross provides 24 hour psycho-social support over the phone, delivery services of food and medicines for vulnerable groups, supports the health services with ambulances and virus testing and spreads important messages through its media channels.
  • Our colleagues at Austrian Red Cross have partnered with Accenture to produce a “Stop Corona” app that helps people keep track of contact that they have with others, and alerts them when they may have been in contact with someone who contracts the virus. This is all done without storing or transmitting personal data. Austrian Red Cross has also partnered with a radio station to register more than 50,000 new volunteers who can be contacted by SMS or app when there is an emergency. These volunteers have been helping deliver supplies to people in home quarantine. Austrian Red Cross is conducting more than 2,000 COVID-19 tests per day on behalf of the health authorities, with 13 “drive-in” and fixed screening stations to deal with the growing number of tests.
  • With infection rates now passing 100,000 in Spain, including over 9,000 fatalities, Spanish Red Cross is providing a wide range of services in addition to operating ambulances and health facilities, including setting up 31 shelters for 2,500 homeless people who need to be isolated, and have mobilised over 8,000 volunteers to deliver aid and provide psychosocial support.
  • A number of National Societies have seen large numbers people sign up for community volunteering programs such as British Red Cross’ Community Reserve Volunteer and the Ready2Help network in the Netherlands to help run local food banks.
  • The Swiss Red Cross is using an app called “Five Up”, which matches volunteers with people in need of services. Swiss Red Cross has seen an influx of young volunteers to temporarily replace their many older volunteers who may be vulnerable in providing services in the community.

Photo: Volunteer of the Milan branch of the Italian Red Cross delivers medical equipment to the hospital.

  • Canadian, Danish, French, German, Italian, Swiss and Swedish Red Cross, amongst others, have established various services for people in isolation, from the delivery of groceries and medicines (eg France “Solidarity Concierge”), through to picking up mail and walking dogs (Denmark). Requests for assistance are often registered using the same hotline numbers that are providing psychosocial support.  Requests are then channelled either to branches or to ad hoc volunteers (eg in Netherlands and Austria).
  • Where quarantine centres have been established, National Societies are helping to provide psychosocial support and relief items (Canada, USA).

In the Pacific

  • ​The Pacific has seen few cases of COVID-19 so far, with cases concentrated in Guam, French Polynesia and New Caledonia. Fiji has 5 registered cases, whilst Papua New Guinea has its first case.  Pacific nations have either banned international travel or imposed quarantine requirements on international travellers to avoid transmissions.
  • We are supporting National Societies including Palau, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga and PNG to prepare for potential outbreaks. The current focus for Pacific National Societies is on risk communication and community engagement and training up staff and volunteers.  IFRC has provided materials, and some of these are being translated into local languages. Our Health Technical Lead has provided remote support to training, for example, to staff and volunteers at PNG Red Cross Headquarters.

How we are helping

Our response at Australian Red Cross is focused on reaching out and supporting Australians during this tough time.

We’ve been providing psychosocial support, information and referrals to people who are self-isolating, and people arriving from overseas who are forced into quarantine, through daily welfare calls from trained Red Cross volunteers. We hand delivered relief packages full of food, water and personal care items to 1,100 families and have been coordinating the deliveries of food, water and personal care items to vulnerable Victorians alongside Foodbank Victoria and Australia Post.

Red Cross workers are providing culturally and linguistically appropriate support to refugees. We’re disseminating information on social distancing and best hygiene practices in 18 languages via audio recordings that are sent through WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. As well as Red Cross preparing and sending hygiene items to the Tiwi Islands and Galiwin'ku, we are also providing meals to young people experiencing homelessness. And in Asia-Pacific we are training volunteers in Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE), as well as promoting health and hygiene awareness activities; and we recently announced the first of our initiatives to engage the Australian community in helping each other with the partnership with the Football Federation of Australia. 

We’ve also started a digital advocacy group on Facebook. We’re asking people to join us in spreading responsible, calm and factual information. Anyone who wants a way to help out while still social distancing can join in.

And we cannot do all of these without your support and tireless work. Thank you to everyone who is continuing our work and adapting to focus on what’s most important during this very difficult time. For more on how we’re supporting Australians, read my latest update here. There are also useful tips and articles on our website such as ways to manage working from homedefusing family tension and conflict during COVID-19 and the need to be the 80% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 in war-torn countries

While we are going through this, there are others who are doing it tough, living through COVID-19 in war-torn countries. Our colleagues at the ICRC describe this situation as not only “a public health crisis, but also a humanitarian crisis in the making."

In conflict-stricken countries, COVID-19 represents a dramatic threat to life. Health systems have already been ravaged by violence, and the threat of further strain on health care from the coronavirus is an enormous risk for communities.

“ICRC with our Movement partners can make the difference in specific areas. Work is underway to scale up our operational response in areas including detention, displacement camps as well as supporting health services,” said ICRC President, Peter Maurer.

The humanitarian aid provided on the frontlines is essential to saving lives during this crisis. You can read more about how ICRC is working closely with Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies here.

That's all for this week.
Take care.