Learn first aid for someone who is unresponsive and not breathing during Covid-19

Providing first aid to someone who is unresponsive and not breathing is crucial in making sure that they have the best chance of recovery. However, it is also important that you take measures to protect yourself during the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to reduce the potential risk of infection when giving first aid, please follow the steps outlined below. 

Please always consider your own personal safety first when delivering first aid, further guidance around first aid during the Covid-19 pandemic can be found here.

If you have access to any form of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a face mask, gloves or an apron, make sure you are wearing it. 

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.

Check if the person is breathing. In the current Covid-19 circumstances do not listen or feel for breaths by putting your ear and cheek near their nose or mouth, look to see if their chest is moving.

If you are unsure, assume that they are not breathing and move to step two.

first-aid-unresponsive-not-breathing-covid-19-tilting head

2. Call 999 as soon as possible

If you can't do this, make sure someone else does. If Covid-19 is suspected, tell them when you call 999. 


3. When suspecting an 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 children, the risks of giving rescue breaths are likely to be outweighed by the importance of giving rescue breaths (as lack of oxygen is the most likely reason for the child’s condition), especially when the child is known to the first aider. 


4. Give chest compressions: 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 a child 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 during 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.  If you are carrying out first aid on someone you live with, there are limited risks of catching Covid-19. The overall risk is low if giving first aid to someone you do not know, and the steps above show how to do this safely. Try to ensure that when giving aid, others stay at least two metres away. 

What is CPR? 

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR is a technical term covering steps for how to help someone who is unresponsive and not breathing in a normal situation. 

Should I give rescue breaths? 

Current advice is that you do not perform rescue breaths or mouth to mouth ventilations. Compression-only CPR may be as effective as combined ventilations and compressions in the first few minutes. If in doubt, ask when you call the emergency services on 999.