Learn first aid for someone who is unresponsive and not breathing, with Covid-19 or other respiratory infection
Providing first aid to someone who is unresponsive and not breathing is crucial in making sure that they have the best chance of recovery. In normal circumstances, it is now considered safe to follow the usual steps when a person is unresponsive and not breathing.
Safety while giving first aid
Please always consider your personal safety when giving first aid. Look out for dangers and only act when you’re confident that it is safe to do so.
If you are concerned about giving first aid to someone who is unresponsive and not breathing because you suspect they have a respiratory infection, including Covid-19, you can follow the steps outlined below.
If you have access to any form of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a face mask, gloves or an apron, put them on.
If someone is not moving and does not respond when you call them or gently shake their shoulders, they are unresponsive.
1. Check breathing by tilting the person’s head back by pushing gently under their chin to keep their airway open
When a person is unresponsive, their muscles relax and their tongue can block their airway so they can no longer breathe. Tilting their head back opens the airway by pulling the tongue forward.
If they are not breathing, their chest and stomach will not be moving and you will not feel or hear their breaths.
If you are unsure, assume that they are not breathing and move to step two.
2. Call 999 as soon as possible
If you can't do this, make sure someone else does.
3. If you suspect they have a respiratory infection
Put a towel or cloth over the person’s mouth and nose. Please ensure that this will not prevent the person breathing if first aid is successful.
For babies and children, it is even more important to give rescue breaths than with an adult. You should include rescue breaths if you are willing and able to do so. The risks of giving rescue breaths are likely to be outweighed by the importance of giving them (as lack of oxygen is the most likely reason for a child to stop breathing).
4. Give chest compressions: For adults, push firmly downwards in the middle of the chest with both hands and then release.
Continue to push in this way at a regular rate until help arrives.
Use two fingers to give chest compressions to an infant under one year old.
Use one hand to give chest compressions to a child from one year old to puberty.
5. Wash your hands
Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds once the emergency services have taken over from you.
Early use of a defibrillator, where available, significantly increases the person’s chances of survival and does not increase the risk of infection.
Common questions about first aid for someone who is unresponsive and not breathing when suspecting a respiratory infection, including Covid-19
Is it safe to give first aid to someone who is unresponsive and not breathing?
A Red Cross survey showed 59% of deaths from injuries would have been preventable had first aid been given before the emergency services arrived. The overall risk of infection is low when giving first aid to someone.
However, if you are concerned about giving first aid because you think they may have a respiratory illness including Covid-19, you can follow the steps above.
What is CPR?
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR is a technical term covering steps for how to help someone who is unresponsive and not breathing.
Should I give rescue breaths?
If you are willing and able to do so, you can perform two breaths for every 30 chest compressions. If you are not able to give rescue breaths, remember that doing something is better than doing nothing to help. Calling 999 and giving only chest compressions can save a person’s life.