Confusion around what to do during COVID-19 when someone’s in a cardiac arrest could cause delay in life-saving action, warn charities

Confusion around what to do during COVID-19 when someone’s in a cardiac arrest could cause delay in life-saving action, warn charities. 

New research has revealed that a third of UK adults don’t know if, during the COVID-19 pandemic, CPR should only be carried out by professionals wearing PPE.  

The organisations behind Restart a Heart Day are concerned this could result in people waiting rather than taking action, putting thousands of lives at risk. They are urging the public to act immediately to perform CPR when someone has collapsed and stopped breathing. 

‘Get hands on’ is the call from the organisations leading this year’s Restart a Heart Day on October 16. Resuscitation Council UK, St John Ambulance, the British Heart Foundation, British Red Cross, and Yorkshire Ambulance Service, as well as all UK ambulance services, are asking the public to act immediately by performing hands-only CPR in an emergency. 

They are encouraging everyone to learn the simple steps to perform CPR that will give somebody having a cardiac arrest their best chance of survival whilst reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission from performing CPR. 

With 80% of out of hospital sudden cardiac arrests occurring in the home[1] and with a person’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest reducing by 10% for every minute without CPR and defibrillation [2], the clear message on Restart a Heart Day is to learn CPR and have the confidence to use it.  

This year, there is also an emphasis on learning and teaching CPR using updated guidance that reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission. With early reports showing that the chance of survival may have decreased in many countries because fewer bystanders are helping in an emergency [3], it is essential that the UK public take the time to learn CPR skills using the updated guidance. 

These CPR skills can be learned on and around 16 October through the FREE digital resources available at and by participating in digital training events across the country. You can also follow the conversation online at #RestartAHeart.   

Guidance issued early in the pandemic by Resuscitation Council UK sets out how to do CPR with reduced risk to the bystander and without negatively impacting the collapsed person’s chances of survival. [4] 

The key changes are loosely laying a face covering, such as a mask, cloth, towel or item of clothing, over the mouth and nose of the person who has collapsed and to do hands-only CPR (no mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths).  

Here are the steps you should take if you witness a cardiac arrest during COVID-19: 

  1. If you see someone has collapsed and is not breathing or not breathing normally, do not put your face next to theirs when checking for breathing. Instead, check for signs of breathing by looking to see if their chest is moving. 
  2. Call 999. 
  3. Lay a face covering, such as a mask, a cloth, towel or piece of clothing loosely over the mouth and nose of the person who has collapsed (i.e. do not seal the mouth and nose) 
  4. Do not do mouth to mouth rescue breaths 
  5. Start chest compressions by pressing hard on the chest two times per second – you can keep your time by following the beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ or ‘Baby Shark’. 
  6. Use a public access defibrillator if one is available   

Two people who know the importance of learning and using CPR skills during the pandemic are Danny Jennings and Andy McCombie. They hadn’t ever met before, but when they saw someone collapsed and not breathing in the Braefoot Bay area of Fife back in April 2020, they worked together to call an ambulance and do compression-only CPR. 

Both men had trained in CPR previously, and didn’t hesitate to help when they saw someone in need. 

“When I came across a lady collapsed on the side of the path, I didn’t think about COVID-19. I just knew I needed to help,” said Danny. Andy echoed this, saying “When I did my CPR training at work, I never thought I’d ever need to put it into practice. But I knew where my hands needed to be and the rate of compressions.  This gave me the confidence to help” 

While the woman they helped sadly died in hospital the following day, the two men take comfort from the fact that their swift actions gave her the best chance of survival, and they encourage others to get hands on and do CPR in an emergency. 

Andy said, “please make sure you spend a few minutes learning CPR – you don’t know when you might need it.  

“Even if you’ve learned CPR before, make sure you know the steps you should follow during the pandemic. One day it could be someone you love or a total stranger who needs your help.” 

Dr Andrew Lockey, consultant in emergency medicine and co-lead for World Restart a Heart Day, Resuscitation Council UK said: 

"Now, more than ever before, friends and family are dying unnecessarily from sudden cardiac arrest.  

“Worries about COVID-19 should not deter anyone from doing the best thing in an emergency. 

“The principle message for Restart a Heart is that you can still save a life, whilst keeping yourself safe.  

“If you are uncertain what to do, visit for further guidance or learn CPR online by playing RCUK’s interactive training game, Lifesaver. Don't be afraid to get hands on and save a life!" 

Martin Houghton-Brown, CEO, St John Ambulance said:  

“Normally, our highly skilled St John people would be providing CPR demonstrations to communities across the country for Restart a Heart Day; we’re hugely disappointed that the pandemic has prevented this face-to-face interaction this year. Instead, I’d urge people to get ‘hands on’ and learn the safe and effective way to do CPR from the comfort of their own home. Most of us have had to meet our friends and family online, go to work or university online, now it’s time to learn CPR online. We think more people could learn this year than ever before so please do join in and share with all of your friends.” 

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive at the British Heart Foundation, said: 

“Every second counts when someone has a cardiac arrest, and doing something is always better than doing nothing. 

“Learning CPR and having the confidence to perform it is as important as it has ever been.  There are more than 30,000 out of hospital cardiac arrests that happen each year, and these will not stop as a result of the pandemic. 

“Even in these challenging times we can still build a nation of lifesavers, and while this Restart a Heart Day will be like no other before it, we urge everybody to spend just 30 minutes of their time to learn this vital skill.” 

Georgie Hart, Head of Community Education, British Red Cross said:  

“It is very clear from this concerning research that now, more than ever, we need people to be learning first aid. We know that lockdown has presented challenges and some confusion around how you can help in an emergency. That’s why we’ve found a way to make learning first aid as quick and easy as possible – with the British Red Cross first aid app, which can be downloaded now.  

“We have also created an online resource called First Aid Champions, for children and young people to learn and access at school, after First Aid was officially added to the curriculum in England this year.” 

Jason Carlyon, Senior Engagement Lead (Community) for Yorkshire Ambulance Service, said:  

“We are concerned that an increasing number of our cardiac arrest patients are not surviving because bystanders are reluctant to step in and help due to COVID-19. What happens in the first few minutes before our arrival on scene is critical and there are measures people can take to minimise the risks such as placing a cloth loosely over the patient’s mouth while doing hands-only CPR. Without bystander CPR, our chances of success are much reduced so please take a few moments to learn this vital skill.” 


Notes to editors  

Press office: 07506 374 945 


Andrea Ttofa, Director of Engagement and Influencing, Resuscitation Council UK,   

Emily Pulham, Communications Manager, Resuscitation Council UK,   

Chloe Gynne, Communications Officer, Resuscitation Council UK,  

You Gov carried out an online survey of 2,086 adults across the UK between 9th - 10th September 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).  

When asked whether the following statement is true or false:    

Since the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has emerged, all bystander CPR should only be carried out by professionals wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)  

  • 18% of respondents responded true  
  • 47% of respondents responded false  
  • 34% of respondents said they didn’t know  


[1] Resuscitation to Recovery 

[2] Resuscitation to Recovery 

[3] Marijon, E., Karam, N., Jost, D., Perrot, D., Frattini, B., Derkenne., et al. Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest during the COVID-19 pandemic in Paris, France: a population-based, observational study  

[4] Resuscitation Council UK’s COVID-19 Guidance 

About Restart a Heart day  

Every October, hundreds of thousands of people across the UK – and many more worldwide – learn CPR as part of the Restart a Heart campaign.  

The campaign is led in the UK by Resuscitation Council UK alongside our partners - the British Heart Foundation, British Red Cross, St John Ambulance and Yorkshire Ambulance Service. Every UK Ambulance service joins in to ensure as many people as possible are trained in life-saving skills.  

We lead this national training event because we know that if more people learn CPR, more lives could be saved. The campaign brings communities together, raising awareness of cardiac arrest and increasing the number of people trained in the UK.  

About Resuscitation Council UK  

Resuscitation Council UK is saving lives by developing guidelines, influencing policy, delivering courses and supporting cutting-edge research. Through education, training and research, we’re working towards the day when everyone in the country has the skills they need to save a life.   

About St John Ambulance 

St John Ambulance responds to health emergencies, supports communities, and saves lives.  

As a volunteer-led health and first aid charity, St John Ambulance has relieved people from illness, injury, distress and suffering for over 140 years and, with the public’s support, will do so for decades to come.

About The British Heart Foundation 

One in four of us in the UK and one in three globally die from heart and circulatory diseases. That’s why the British Heart Foundation funds world-leading research into their causes, prevention, treatment and cure. Advances from our research have saved and improved millions of lives, but heart diseases, stroke, vascular dementia and their risk factors such as diabetes still cause heartbreak on every street. With the public’s support, our funding will drive the new discoveries to end that heartbreak.  

About The British Red Cross 

For over 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them recover and move on with their lives. 

About the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS) covers almost 6,000 square miles and provides 24-hour emergency and healthcare services to a population of more than five million people. The Trust pioneered the mass CPR training event in Yorkshire to mark Restart a Heart Day in 2014 and has been integral to its roll-out among all UK ambulance services and now internationally. This year, YAS will provide online CPR training to secondary schools on Restart a Heart Day.