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01/12/2021 | Article

COVID-19: Scaling up testing and strengthening national health systems with EU support

Since the beginning of the pandemic, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe have been supporting their countries’ health authorities in the fight against COVID-19 through a wide range of services to help curb the spread of the virus and ensure nobody is left behind. In Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain, National Societies expanded mobile testing capacities thanks to a EUR 35.5 million partnership between the European Commission and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The European Commission financed this project as part of its Emergency Support Instrument to boost testing capacities and provide immediate support to Member States. The project’s success – it trained and equipped more testing teams as initially targeted – shows the value of a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic amongst European Red Cross National Societies. From September 2020 to September 2021, this initiative has been a vital part of the COVID-19 response, making RT-PCR and rapid antigen testing available for more people. Local Red Cross teams performed more than 1.2 million tests within the scope of the project. Moreover, 6,800 Red Cross staff and volunteers were trained for testing and 1,428 mobile teams were set up and equipped to provide COVID-19 testing services. The outreach role of National Red Cross Societies and their capacity to reach vulnerable groups has been particularly important in countries like Greece and Malta, where the Red Cross provided health and care services to migrants and refugees. Set up in camps and remote areas, these testing facilities aimed to help contain the spread of COVID-19 where access to health services was often limited. “Testing is essential to help contain the pandemic. With all its initial targets surpassed, the project has proven that National Societies can play a key role in supporting national health systems in Europe and has opened new possibilities for further collaboration with health authorities,” said IFRC project coordinator Francisco Fong. Local Red Cross teams also set up testing stations at transport hubs where a large number of people pass by every day. In Italy, staff and volunteers offered rapid antigen tests free of charge at 10 train stations across the country for travellers and commuters. In countries like Austria, Germany, Portugal and Spain, the Red Cross mobile testing teams have been invaluable in reaching out to marginalised communities in the countryside, where many people don’t have health insurance. As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to surge across Europe, collective efforts are more important than ever to disrupt transmission chains and save lives. The partnership between the European Commission and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has been instrumental in providing support to health authorities and curbing the spread of COVID-19.

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02/08/2021 | Press release

Hundreds of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers responding to wildfires across Europe

Ankara/Budapest/Geneva, 2 August 2021 – Volunteers from Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Turkey are responding to several wildfires raging across Europe. Scorching temperatures, high winds and tinder dry conditions have forced rescues by sea and land, with thousands of people fleeing for their lives with just the clothes on their backs. In southern Turkey eight people have died and scores are injured. Hundreds of animals have been killed and countless homes lost in the worst hit areas of Antalya and Bodrum. More than 2,000 Turkish Red Crescent staff and volunteers are on the ground. Shafiquzzaman Rabbani, Acting Head of Turkey delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said: “We are very concerned at this week’s weather forecast, with temperatures tipped to reach as high as 40 degrees Celsius in Antalya today. Teams of Turkish Red Crescent volunteers and staff are doing everything they can to assist those affected.” Turkish Red Crescent is providing food through its mobile kitchens, distributing water and hygiene kits, and providing shelter and psychosocial support to firefighters and affected communities. In Greece, Hellenic Red Cross rescuers and lifeguards have been evacuating trapped people by boat from the settlements of Kamares, Longos and Platiri. Earlier in the week they were helping the fire brigade quell a fire in Patras. Extreme temperatures forecast for this week have teams on high alert. Italian Red Cross has been assisting with evacuations in Sardinia and distributing water and food. They have delivered animal feed to farmers as fires continued over the weekend. More than 800 flare-ups were recorded this weekend, mainly in the south, and firefighters continue to flight blazes in Sicily. Spanish Red Cross volunteers have also been busy this weekend assisting at a fire at San Juan reservoir, 70km from Madrid, and 25 Russian Red Cross volunteers are still at the scene of a fire in Karelia, distributing food, water, bedding, hygiene kits and personal protective equipment to people affected. IFRC Europe’s acting head of Disaster, Climate and Crises Antoine Belair said the increasing number of wildfires year on year across the Mediterranean is linked to climate change causing more extreme weather conditions, including lower rainfall and higher temperatures. “Extreme weather conditions exacerbate risks of these events. Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies remain on high alert, providing support to affected populations, in close coordination with national authorities and firefighter teams,” he said. Footnote: Advice on how to prepare for a forest fire can be viewed here. For more information, please contact: In Ankara: Elif Isik, +90 539 857 5197, [email protected] In Budapest: Corinne Ambler, +36 704 306 506, [email protected] In Geneva: Nathalie Perroud, +41 79 538 14 71, [email protected]

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02/07/2021 | Article

Canary Islands, Spain: Saving lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic

By Ainhoa Larrea, IFRC “We have had cases of babies, sometimes just hours old, with the umbilical cord still attached, or children who were born in the boat and who would touch the mainland for the first time in our arms.” Miguel Vela has been a Spanish Red Cross volunteer since 2009, witnessing horror and desperation on a regular basis. A trained nurse, he is currently part of the Immediate Response Team in Humanitarian Assistance to Migrants (ERIE) in the Canary Islands – something he combines with his job in a hospital and the 112 emergency service. In 2020, more than 30,000 migrants arrived by sea to Spain, the highest number in 15 years. COVID-19 made the rescue operation even more complex. “The COVID-19 emergency added the risk of infection, the discomfort of having to use protective equipment despite extremely hot temperatures, the frequent modification of protocols and the psychological and physical exhaustion after long working hours,” explained Miguel. But he is aware of how privileged he is. “I have always had the luxury of going back home to running water, electricity and food. In the meantime, people continue to risk their lives in the middle of the sea or have to quarantine in overcrowded settings. Not to mention the bodies that reach the coast or those who do not even manage to touch the mainland, human beings whom no one will ever be able to watch over.” Miguel’s daily activity is intense, racing against the clock to save lives and help the most vulnerable. He is always on standby for a boat sighting. In such cases, he provides basic health and humanitarian aid to migrants upon disembarkation. His team does a first triage, taking those who need medical assistance to a nearby medical post. The rest of the migrants are given essential items including clothes, food and water. Miguel is particularly touched by the children they’ve seen. “No person should go through this, least of all a child. We should be embarrassed as a society,” he denounced. Working in such environment is never easy, but it’s been especially hard this last year. “The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to give 200% of ourselves without having a physical shoulder to lean on, struggling with uncertainty in the face of the unknown and with great fear,” said Miguel. His plea? More humanity and solidarity with one another. “To me, this crisis has been a parenthesis, a ‘stop’ in our lives. From one day to the next all our plans were disrupted, for a moment there seemed to be no distinction of social class, gender, ideals, northern or southern hemispheres... For once in history, we all seemed ONE fighting the same cause. “I invite you to continue maintaining prevention measures. The vaccine is the vertex of the triangle that will help us fight the virus, but it is important that it reaches all corners of the world. It is our duty as a society to ensure that. And I think this crisis is also an opportunity to further value life, the closeness of our own, a hug, a kiss or a simple look.”

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07/06/2021 | Press release

Red Cross Red Crescent warns of the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people in Europe

Budapest/Geneva, 7 June 2021 – The mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will have far-reaching impacts for entire generations, warned the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Several studies by Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across Europe show an alarming pattern, which requires increased efforts to tackle inequity and assist those most in need. Antónia de Barros Mota, head of Mental Health/Psychosocial Support for IFRC Europe, said: “The mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are like invisible scars or hidden wounds. Young people and children are suffering stress, bereavement and loneliness, which can worsen as time passes. Their parents may have lost their jobs. Lockdowns and other restrictions continue to hamper their access to education, training and work.” The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has reached a critical point recently. Four university students took their own lives in a campus in southern France in the last quarter of 2020. French Red Cross set up a 24/7 rapid intervention team[i] to support those at risk. During the first six months they dealt with 11 students including eight who required immediate hospitalisation. “With end of school year exams approaching, staff and volunteers are on high alert,” explained Sara Salinas, coordinator of the French Red Cross emergency service in the county. A Spanish Red Cross study[ii] among families with young children revealed the majority now live in extreme poverty. Nearly 40 per cent are unemployed and three quarters cannot afford expenses such as glasses or hearing aids for their children. Most parents reported feeling worried or stressed, impacting their ability to emotionally support their children. Research by Austrian Red Cross[iii] found sleep and eating disturbances among children had doubled, and that after the second lockdown in 2020, 16 per cent of children interviewed in North Tyrol (Austria) and South Tyrol (Italy) were likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Refugees and migrant children are also significantly affected by the pandemic. A Turkish Red Crescent and IFRC study[iv] found a third were unable to access online school lessons. Another study with German Red Cross in Turkey showed that when forced to stay home children displayed more behavioural problems, and traumatic memories were triggered for some. Europe has had more than 54.6 million COVID-19 cases and 1.1 million deaths to date[v] – a third of infections and fatalities worldwide. Declining trends are promising, but the pandemic’s effects could be long-lasting. “Authorities and civil society organizations must scale up programmes and resources to help vulnerable youth and children – including basic livelihoods assistance and tailored mental health and psychosocial support. It is crucial to promote resilience at the individual level and within society as a whole,” de Barros Mota concluded. Since the beginning of the pandemic, IFRC and Red Cross Red Crescent societies throughout Europe have provided mental health and psychosocial support to 1.8 million people. [i] https://www.croix-rouge.fr/Actualite/Coronavirus-COVID-19/Un-dispositif-de-soutien-inedit-pour-les-etudiants-en-detresse-psychique-2487 [ii] https://www2.cruzroja.es/-/el-96-de-las-familias-con-hijos-de-0-a-6-anos-atendidas-por-cruz-roja-esta-en-riesgo-de-pobreza-y-exclusion-social [iii] Silvia Exenberger; Anna Wenter; Christina Taferner; Nina Haid-Stecher; Maximilian Schickl; Barbara Juen; Kathrin Sevecke; Heidi Siller. "The experience of threat through Covid-19 in children: Gender as moderating factor" has been received by European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The submission id is: ECAP-D-21-00298, May 2021 [iv] https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Impact-of-COVID-19-on-Refugee-Populations-Benefitting-from-ESSN-Programme.pdf [v] https://covid19.who.int/

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21/04/2021 | Press release

COVID-19: IFRC warns Europe’s poorest countries are being left behind, as deaths hit grim milestone

Budapest/Geneva, 21 April 2020 – As Europe reaches the grim milestone of 50 million infections and 1 million lives lost to COVID-19, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calls for more equitable access to vaccination to counter disparities across countries and ensure no one is left behind. More than a year into the pandemic, the situation continues to worsen despite vaccination rollout. The Europe region accounts for one third of cases and deaths worldwide, and the socio-economic crisis is deepening as newly vulnerable people seek help to meet their basic needs. Dr Davron Mukhamadiev, IFRC Regional Health and Care Coordinator for Europe, said: “Vaccine inequity is both concerning and dangerous. COVID-19 does not stop at borders, and our safety relies on widespread immunization. However, some of the poorest countries in Europe are struggling to move forward.” As of 6 April[1], just 12.3 per cent of the population in Europe had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the lack of equitable access to immunization is still worrying: in low income countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, only 0.4 per cent of total inhabitants had been vaccinated, on average, while in the richest countries that figure stood at 17.7 per cent. The IFRC is seeking funding for its immunization plan, targeting 500 million of the most vulnerable people around the world, as part of the organization's emergency appeal to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, at present this is only 51 per cent covered. Without more funding, IFRC will be unable to make a meaningful difference for those in need. Dr Mukhamadiev said it is crucial for governments to step up their commitments towards ensuring that everyone has equal and timely access to the vaccine. “Equity is both a moral and public health imperative. None of us is safe, until we are all safe. At the national level, it is essential to guarantee that homeless, migrants – irrespective of their status – and other vulnerable groups are included in vaccination plans.” Hopes of Europe returning to normality are fading, as health systems in many countries continue to be overburdened and intensive care units reach a critical point. “Worryingly, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across Europe are still witnessing the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic every day, everywhere,” warned Dr Mukhamadiev. “Volunteers who run ambulance services or support nursing homes and hospitals are directly confronted with illness and death, while those providing other types of assistance now deal with increased human suffering and people in need, including the newly vulnerable: including those who have lost their jobs and can’t make ends meet and those who cannot deal with difficulties such as isolation,” he said. In Spain, for example, 52 per cent of the people who asked for psychosocial support through the Spanish Red Cross’ ‘Cruz Roja Te Escucha’ service in the last months had never sought help from the organization before. Two thirds of the total reported having emotional distress most or all the time – including depression and anxiety. Dr Mukhamadiev said the key to successfully combatting successive waves of COVID-19 is vaccination and testing, together with improved treatments and preventative measures. People should continue to routinely wearmasks, wash hands and keep physical distance, as those measures play a major role in mitigating the spread of the virus. Note to editors: National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe have reached nearly 100 million people with health and hygiene promotion activities since the beginning of the pandemic. They have also provided food and other material aid to more than 14.4 million, cash or voucher assistance to 2.9 million, and psychosocial support to 1.8 million. Local teams are working tirelessly to help the most vulnerable, and continue stepping up vaccination, testing and awareness-raising interventions. Here are some examples: In Spain, staff and volunteers have assisted more than 3.5 million people through the ‘Cruz Roja Responde’ multisectoral plan, which includes emergency services and the set-up of temporary hospitals and shelters together with other types of support; they are also testing migrants rescued from the sea, and supporting vaccination in nursing homes and for persons with disabilities. In Italy, staff and volunteers are running one of the largest vaccination centres in the country, in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Furthermore, volunteers are sharing information on a web radio station run by young migrants, and running podcasts on COVID-19; they are translating materials into migrants’ own languages, and circulating them in reception centres while operating a toll-free 24/7 hotline. In Greece, staff and volunteers in the islands, Athens and Thessaloniki are giving a hand with the health screening for migrants, they are responding to thousands of daily calls to their multi-language hotline, and they are disseminating preventative messaging. They have also supported the routine vaccination of migrants, and stand ready to assist in COVID-19 immunization. In Serbia, staff and volunteers are involved in the nation-wide vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and have assisted some 447,750 people – from phone calls for vaccination appointments to distributing leaflets, transporting vulnerable people, helping at the immunization points with temperature checks and paperwork – and, in some places, organizing vaccination in Red Cross premises. National Societies in seven countries (Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain) are additionally scaling up COVID-19 testing thanks to a €35.5 million partnership with the European Commission. [1] Data from the World Health Organization (WHO)

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19/11/2020 | Press release

Red Cross expands COVID-19 testing in seven countries with €35.5 million EU support

Budapest/Geneva, 19 November 2020 – As Europe continues to experience a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, the Red Cross will scale up COVID-19 testing with the announcement of a €35.5 million European Commission partnership. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has signed an agreement with the European Commission, financed by the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), which will see COVID-19 testing carried out by National Red Cross Societies in Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain. Across Europe, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are scaling up their support to embattled national health systems. The European Commission’s funding will support staff training and allow access to equipment, lab items and reagents to take samples and perform PCR and rapid antigen tests in support of national health authorities’ work. IFRC Europe Regional Director, Birgitte Ebbesen, said that hundreds of thousands of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in Europe and Central Asia are working tirelessly to curb the spread of the pandemic. “We are truly grateful for this contribution, which allows an even stronger European Red Cross and Red Crescent engagement. Our volunteers are already working around the clock to keep their local communities safe and healthy. “Besides COVID-19 testing, they are also assisting with transporting patients, volunteering in hospitals and health centres where medical personnel are sick or isolating and providing home care services and psychosocial support for vulnerable people. We are deeply grateful for their dedication and selfless work.” Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said: “Testing tells us what the extent of the spread is, where it is, and how it develops. It is a decisive tool to slow down the spread of COVID-19. “Being efficient on testing also requires having the necessary resources, which is why we are stepping up our support to increase Member States’ testing capacity. Support and solidarity are key to overcome this pandemic,” she added.

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14/10/2020 | Press release

Red Cross raises the alarm across Europe: “Your best defence against this virus is you”

Budapest/Geneva, 14 October 2020 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is urging European governments and its citizens to simultaneously exercise leadership and remain vigilant as COVID-19 ravages the region. More than seven million people have tested positive for COVID-19 across Europe, and 41 of 54 European countries have recorded a more than 10 per cent increase in positive cases compared to two weeks ago. In 23 of those countries, the increase in cases reached more than 50 per cent.[1] “Almost 250,000 people in Europe have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Every death is a tragedy, and we must all work together to try and stop further deaths. We need to take collective action and make the right choices now. Keep physical distance, avoid crowds and parties, wear a mask, wash your hands, and isolate yourself if ill. Hard choices now will pay off in the coming weeks. Protect yourself to protect others. Until this storm passes – and it will – your best defence against this virus is you,” said Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, Head of the IFRC for Europe. Dr Emanuele Capobianco, Head of Health and Care of IFRC, said: “We would not be fulfilling our humanitarian obligation if we did not sound the alarm in this dire moment of the pandemic’s trajectory. We ask governments to act with speed, courage and inclusiveness: to step up protective measures without delay, follow scientific evidence and recommendations and support the most vulnerable who are being affected by both the virus and its heavy socio-economic impact. We know it is a very difficult moment which requires difficult decisions: solving the health crisis will help solve the economic and social one. “We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of front-line workers and citizens who are confronting this pandemic with great commitment and spirit of sacrifice. We can still turn this tide if we act courageously in this moment,” continued Dr Capobianco. Across the continent, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams continue to play their part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and meeting the evolving needs of vulnerable communities: In the UK, British Red Cross volunteers are responding to a shift in the type of calls to their free COVID-19 support line – with the public increasingly seeking emotional support and help with complex needs. The situation is similar for the Italian Red Cross, where psychologists taking calls from the public via their toll-free number say common themes are loneliness, fear and shame of asking for help. Youth volunteers with the Italian Red Cross are also reaching out to young people in the country to explain the importance of personal protective measures and offering peer support. The Netherlands Red Cross is supporting thousands of people who no longer have enough money to buy groceries through the provision of food vouchers, which will cover one meal per day over the coming months. In Spain there’s been a huge response from young Red Cross volunteers, where more than 21,000 young people are helping the most vulnerable populations affected by COVID-19 by distributing food to people at home, accompanying the elderly, transferring patients and supporting families with educational help and resources for children And in south-east France, which has been hit by recent severe flooding, in a partnership between the city of Arras and the Red Cross of Pas-de-Calais rescuers have taken to the streets of the city centre to remind people of the importance of COVID-19 safety measures. French Red Cross first aid workers have also been in primary and nursery schools talking to children about the importance of COVID-19 protections. “Months into this pandemic, we know communities across Europe are craving a return to normality. But the figures confirm we are not out of the woods yet, and as we head towards winter it is more important than ever that we remain socially close while staying physically distant,” Ms Ebbesen ended. [1] Source: World Health Organization

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25/06/2019 | Press release

Red Cross urges public to check on neighbours as Europe braces for heatwave

Budapest/Geneva, 25 June 2019 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling on people to check on vulnerable neighbours, relatives and friends as Western Europe readies itself for possible record high temperatures. According to European meteorological offices, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Hungary and Switzerland can expect temperatures in the mid to high-30s during the week, with temperatures potentially climbing to 40°C in Paris on Thursday (27 June). IFRC’s Europe Region health coordinator Dr Davron Mukhamadiev said: “The coming days will be challenging for a lot of people, but especially older people, young children, and people with underlying illnesses or limited mobility. “Our message this week is simple: look after yourself, your family and your neighbours. A phone call or a knock on the door could save a life.” Across Western Europe, Red Cross staff and volunteers are on high alert. In France, volunteers are patrolling the streets, providing water and hygiene kits and visiting isolated and older people in their homes. “If necessary, the emergency operations centre at our headquarters can be opened to coordinate the response to this emergency,” said French Red Cross spokesperson Alain Rissetto. In Spain, 50 staff in the Red Cross operations centre are currently calling vulnerable and older people to check they are safe and to give advice on how to cope with the heat. And in Belgium volunteers are distributing water and checking on older community members. Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of heat extremes globally, underscoring the urgent need to manage heatwave risks effectively and to prevent avoidable strain being put on already stretched health care services. The risks are particularly high in cities, where the impacts can be most severe. Heatwaves can have a catastrophic human toll. In 2003, for example, an estimated 70,000 people died during a record-breaking heatwave in Europe. Next month, IFRC and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre will launch new guidelines designed to help cities better support their vulnerable residents during heatwaves.

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