What can a first aider do to help during the coronavirus pandemic?

Written by Anna Bishop
May 27, 2020

Anna is a Training Product Manager at Red Cross Training responsible for the development and review of our training products.

This blog was originally published on 27 May 2020 and has been updated for accuracy based on the latest guidance.

If you have been trained in first aid you may be wondering how you can put your skills to use to support people in the community and whilst at work.  The simple answer is to carry on using the lifesaving skills you have been taught. 

As you can imagine, during this difficult time there are less and less people who are comfortable to step forward and help others, mostly as they are concerned about physical contact.  Hopefully, we can offer some reassurance and helpful tips on how to make it as safe as possible.  

Explain how they can help themselves

Most first aid is very simple and the steps to take in an emergency can be described or explained to an injured or ill person so they can help themselves.  For example, if they are bleeding heavily, you can ask them to apply pressure to the wound with whatever they have available while you call 999.

If you do need to provide assistance to an individual who you are concerned may have an infection, wherever possible place the person in a location away from others. If there is no physically separate room, ask others who are not involved in providing assistance to stay at least 1 metre away from the individual. If barriers or screens are available, these may be used.

If someone is so badly injured or ill that they are unable to help themselves it is even more important we step in and try to help. For example, not helping someone who is not responsive or not breathing will dramatically reduce their chance of survival but the risks to the first aider are very low especially if good hygiene practices are followed*. 

Hygiene and first aid

It is important to remember first aid has always had to consider the risk of infection, not from coronavirus (Covid 19) but from other infections such as HIV, hepatitis and other viruses or infections which have the potential to do harm.

Normal hygiene measures are known to lessen the risk of infection and should be followed.

Wear Personal protective equipment (PPE) if easily available - gloves, fluid resistant surgical mask and a plastic apron are recommended. If the responder has access to personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g. Fluid Resistant Surgical Mask (FRSM), disposable gloves and eye protection), these should be donned before approaching within 1 metre of the patient.

Wearing PPE creates a barrier between you and the casualty.  Even if you wear gloves and other PPE it is still important to wash your hands after helping someone.

If PPE are not easily available, then treat the casualty as normal but be sure to wash your hands at the earliest opportunity- every second counts and delaying help to get gloves can have a detrimental effect on the outcome for your casualty.

Wash your hands after any contact with someone.

Following current government advice around handwashing is known to reduce the risk of infection.  Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser gel if water is not available.

Compression only CPR

As a precaution the Resuscitation Council UK have provided updated advice:

  1. Check if they need CPR by looking for absence of signs of life and normal breathing.

Do not listen or feel for breathing by placing your ear and cheek close to the persons mouth.   If you are unsure, assume they are absent.

  1. Call 999 as soon as possible.

If a coronavirus infection is suspected, tell them when you call 999.

  1. Give chest compressions: push firmly downwards in the middle of the chest and then release.

If you think there is a risk of infection, responders should place a cloth / towel / Fluid Resistant Surgical Masks (FRSM) over the victim’s mouth and nose and attempt compression only CPR until the ambulance arrives.

4. Wash your hands

After performing compression-only CPR, you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water; alcohol-based hand gel can be used if this isn’t available. You should also seek advice from the NHS 111 coronavirus advice service.

If treating a baby or child, the importance of calling an ambulance and taking immediate action cannot be stressed highly enough.

It is likely that you will know them already and we accept that doing rescue breaths will increase the risk of transmitting the coronavirus, either to the rescuer or the child but the risk is small compared to the risk of taking no action.

Learn first aid for someone who is unresponsive and not breathing during Covid-19 by following the steps outlined on this page >

Up to date information from the Resuscitation Council UK can be found here >

Up to date information for first aider and first responders from Public Health England can be found here >

Pressure on the NHS

At the moment the NHS and its ambulance service are under tremendous strain. Consider whether you need to call 999 – this service is for life threatening emergencies such as unresponsive people, those with chest pain, breathing difficulties or severe allergic reactions.

For non-life-threatening emergencies consider if there is an alternative source of help such a talking to a pharmacist, self-care at home or going to a local pharmacy, urgent care centre or minor injuries unit.  Further advice can be found at the NHS website here >

We know that at this time everybody is worried about what may happen in the future, and how each of us, or our loved ones may be affected. By working together, and doing what little we can for each other, we really can help to save lives. Remember, we’re all in this together!

How the British Red Cross is helping those affected by COVID-19

The British Red Cross is part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is supporting Red Cross National Societies in this, and other affected countries.

Through this global Movement, we will help countries with weaker health care systems to deal with coronavirus patients and keep the pandemic in check.

Want to get involved and help us support those in need?

We can help you share your kindness with those who need it most

By becoming a community reserve volunteer, you will help your community get back on track in the event of a major local emergency. This may be particularly important right now and we are working with the authorities to support the Covid-19 response in the best possible way.


*If you fall into one of the identified coronavirus risk group additional caution should be taken.

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Topics: First Aid

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