Covid-19: our work so far

A look at the work of our volunteers and staff in the UK and around the world during the global pandemic 

Last updated 4 August 2023

It has been more than nine months since the Covid-19 outbreak was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Globally, over 1.6 million people have sadly now lost their lives to the virus. 

“The world is suffering a collective and colossal loss,” said Alexander Matheou, executive director of international at the British Red Cross.

“No one has escaped the devastating effects of this global pandemic. From the UK, to Yemen, to the refugee camps of Bangladesh, this virus has not discriminated. But if we have gained anything from this virus, it is the certainty that we are more connected than we ever imagined."

Both here in the UK and overseas, people have worked together to help others, often having to be inventive in their ways of reaching out under the new way of living. Our own staff and volunteers have been a part of the world’s frontline response to the virus, helping the most vulnerable to keep safe and healthy.  


Thousands of new volunteers 

Since the first nationwide lockdown first came into effect in March, more than 79,000 people have signed up to give their time as community reserve volunteers (CRVs). These volunteers help their community get back on track in the event of a major local incident, such as a flood. Incredibly, we've had to pause registrations for the time being, and now have more than 88,000 CRVs we can call on in an emergency.

Volunteers have been delivering food and medicines to people who have been shielding at home, people who are recently out of hospital, and to vulnerable refugees and people seeking asylum. In total, since March, we’ve made over 13,000 medicine deliveries and over 85,000 food deliveries.

In May, we partnered with FareShare, the UK’s largest charity fighting hunger and food wastage. Together, we have helped deliver more than 300,000 meals – over 140 tonnes of food.


Getting people safely home 

A large part of our work in the UK revolves around supporting the NHS to transport people safely home from hospital. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our ambulance teams have transported over 21,000 people, around a quarter of whom were helped as part of our Covid-19 response work.  

Supporting people over the phone

In April, we launched our support line. Free and confidential, it’s a one-stop shop for anyone seeking help accessing food or medication, or for anyone who is feeling lonely or is looking for some emotional support. Since its launch, our team of experienced psychosocial and mental health volunteers have taken over 11,000 calls.   

Keeping people moving 

Our mobility aids service faced a dilemma earlier this year when many of our hundreds of volunteers had to self-isolate, forcing us to close many locations. Thanks to a partnership with Big Yellow Storage, who stored wheelchairs for us in 27 locations across the country, we were able to continue our services and ramp up our home deliveries.  

Keeping people connected under lockdown

The British Red Cross is the leading provider of support to refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK, providing practical items like food parcels, clothes, small amounts of emergency cash, and help finding accommodation. It is this basic support that some people in the system – who are living on just £5.40 a day – depend on to get by. 
When lockdown was announced, staff and volunteers at our refugee centre in Hackney, East London worried they would need to close, leaving those they work with more isolated than ever. Instead, the centre managed to remained open at reduced capacity, operating on a 'one-in, one-out' basis.

Since March, the British Red Cross has provided accommodation advice to over 3,000 vulnerable refugees and people seeking asylum, and has provided more than 6,000 food parcels. 

Part of a global effort 

Of course, it's not just the British Red Cross that has been working to help around the world this year. Our partner organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have also been involved in the response, with 162 national societies responding globally. 
The British Red Cross supports the societies in a number of these countries, including Syria, Yemen and in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which houses the largest refugee camp in the world.  

In Syria, more than 8,000 Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteers are helping people to stay safe. With the support of the ICRC, SARC is supporting 100,000 displaced people in Al-Hol camp, and in Damascus 90,000 people have been provided with clean water through a rehabilitated water pumping station.
In Yemen, 12,000 Yemen Red Crescent volunteers are working across the country, and supporting in 65 quarantine and isolation centres. With the ICRC, they have also set up a coronavirus field hospital in Aden. 
Meanwhile in Cox’s Bazar, 4,000 volunteers are working in the camps to help people stay safe from the virus. 


Looking ahead to the future 


“We must continue to have the hope that, if we all pull together, we can turn the tide of the pandemic, support the most vulnerable through this crisis and learn lessons about how we can better protect each other and our environment in the future,” said Matheou.  


With a situation as ever-changing and all-encompassing as this pandemic, we are constantly looking at ways of adapting our services in order to be there for those that need us the most. In our 150th year, and throughout this pandemic and beyond, our values of humanity and unity must inform our approach to crises like this more than ever.   


Learn more about our international work related to the Covid-19 pandemic: 




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Coronavirus is spreading in the world's most vulnerable communities, with the safety of millions at stake. Please help the Red Cross continue our vital work and help the most vulnerable people in society.