COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Most people with COVID-19 suffer mild to moderate respiratory illnesses and flu-like symptoms. But it can cause serious illness and claim lives, with older people and those with underlying medical conditions most at risk.

About COVID-19

COVID-19 is an infectious disease that emerged in late 2019 and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unparalleled catastrophe in recent history, staggering in both its impact and breadth. It claimed the lives of millions of people and had hugely damaging socio-economic and mental health impacts, particularly on the most vulnerable.

Vaccines for COVID-19 were developed in late December 2020 to reduce people's risks of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, slow down the spread of disease, and prevent new variants from emerging. Mass COVID-19 vaccination efforts have since taken place around the world, and continue today.

While the WHO declared in May 2023 that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, it remains a global health threat and continues to affect, and kill, people around the world.

Our pandemic response

The IFRC COVID-19 response operation was a global response made up of individual national responses by our 191 member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Under the coordination and support of the IFRC Secretariat, we reached hundreds of millions of people around the world, focussing on three operational priorities:

  1. Sustaining health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
  2. Addressing socio-economic impacts
  3. Strengthening National Societies

Together, we helped strengthen healthcare systems and procured and distributed essential medical supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), and testing kits. We ran public health campaigns to inform and engage with communities about infection prevention measures. We transported people to hospitals, cared for patients in health facilities, and provided mental health and psychosocial support. And we ran vaccination drives, supporting 161 million people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

To address the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, our National Societies provided food and other in-kind items to 92 million people. We supported the livelihoods of affected communities, delivering cash and voucher assistance to 5.9 million people to help them cope. And we offered training and skills development to more than 273,000 people to help them find work.

You can delve into the detail of our COVID-19 response operation in our final report, available below. 

While our response operation has now ended, the IFRC network continues to support communities around the world to recover from the long-term impacts of COVID-19. We continue to invest in epidemic and pandemic preparedness programming, having seen firsthand how being prepared made us better equipped to handle COVID-19 and its many challenges.

Key COVID-19 resources

A Korea Red Cross Society medical worker wears a mask in a hospital where she's treating patients with COVID-19 in February 2022.

Final report on our COVID-19 appeal

Read our in-depth report on the IFRC network's three-year COVID-19 response operation, through which we reached hundreds of millions of people around the world.

World Disasters Report 2022 cover design

Lessons to avert the next global crisis

Our latest World Disasters Report shows how preparedness ahead of COVID-19 was inadequate, and how the world can prepare more effectively for future public health emergencies. 

Everyone Counts Report 2023 cover design

COVID-19 data and learnings

Our Everyone Counts Report 2023 shares findings and learnings from the collective efforts of more than 180 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies during COVID-19.

A woman in Satkhira, Bangladesh holds her baby as she receives COVID-19 assistance from the Bangladesh Red Crescent in September 2021

Socio-economic impacts

Our Drowning just below the surface report presents research on who was most affected by the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and how.

An Indonesian Red Cross volunteer sits with two people outside their shop in Banten province and hears how the COVID-19 pandemic affected them and their business, and how cash assistance provided by the Indonesian Red Cross helped them to get by.

COVID-19 compendium

Explore IFRC materials, guidance and contacts for a wide range of health topics within the COVID-19 response.

A Ugandan Red Cross volunteer teaches his local community how to recognise signs of the ebola virus so they can alert local health authorities to take rapid action

Pandemic preparedness

Learn how the IFRC and our National Societies help communities prevent, detect and quickly respond to outbreaks—saving countless lives and promoting healthier communities.


Watch: Videos about COVID-19

All COVID-19 documents