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Coronavirus: It’s not over until it’s over everywhere

by Sanj Srikanthan, ShelterBox CEO 16/04/2020

This global pandemic is changing all our lives. It’s our duty as humanitarians to help those least able to protect themselves.

As we begin to adjust to the new reality of life within a coronavirus outbreak, many of us are trying to do our best for others. One of the most heartening things I’ve seen is the spirit of volunteering emerging across the UK and beyond. 750,000 people signed up to become NHS volunteer responders in a matter of days, so many that they’ve had to suspend new applications.

For those of us lucky enough to be at home, healthy, and not in a high-risk group, we want to do more for others in our communities – but we must also remember that this virus can spread from anywhere in the world.

What started as an outbreak localised to one province in China has brought the world to a halt. Streets silenced, planes grounded, entire economies on their knees. This contagious killer has changed our lives overnight and, at least until a widespread vaccination programme is possible, we can expect its devastating outbreaks to continue.

A busy Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

In a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, there are 40,000 people per square kilometre

 

It’s not over until it’s over everywhere

In the poorest countries of the world – many also shouldering the burden of disaster or conflict – there are fewer medical facilities, and countless families without proper homes to isolate in, living in incredibly crowded conditions. Coronavirus can and will spread like wildfire.

To put it into perspective, there are 6,000 people per square kilometre in Wuhan, where this outbreak began, but 40,000 people per square kilometre in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. We must realise that as bad as things have been here in the past month, we are nowhere near the catastrophe faced by displaced communities around the world, where coronavirus could spread unchecked without testing and access to hospital care. It was reported this week, for example, that the Central African Republic has just 3 ventilators for its 5 million population.

A ReliefAid worker wearing a face mask sprays disinfectant on an aid delivery truck
A ReliefAid worker wearing a face mask sprays disinfectant on an aid delivery truck

A ReliefAid worker disinfects an aid truck in Syria. ShelterBox and its partners are doing everything possible to get shelter to families here, while preventing a catastrophic spread of the virus

 

What does ‘social distance’ look like in a crowded camp?

As our media speculate on the key to ending lockdown, millions of displaced people will be wondering how the basic prevention advice applies to their reality.

Abu, a father living in a camp in Idlib, Syria, told us: ‘I cannot buy masks or gloves and I cannot treat my family if they catch the virus. I need a kitchen set just for our family, so that I don’t have to borrow from someone or lend my stuff to another person so that the infection does not spread.

‘All I can do is to keep my family away from people and inside the tent.’

It calls upon our compassion – both as humans and humanitarians –.to act for people like Abu. Charity may begin at home, but as long as pockets of the virus live somewhere in the world, coronavirus will remain a challenge for us all.

children hugging each other and smiling in Syria

 

Shelter will be a vital answer to that challenge

That’s why I’m proud that we at ShelterBox are standing up our response to coronavirus. Emergency shelter is vital for moving people from overcrowded camps and collective centres to a more private space.

Alongside healthcare, providing high quality tents for families to isolate in and soap to keep hands clean will help everyone take the same actions we know work here at home.

I’ll have more to share in the coming weeks, but the ShelterBox team are ready to meet the challenge now. They’re well accustomed to adapting quickly when a new disaster hits – communicating remotely and with different languages and cultures, working to resolve complex problems, and getting aid on the move across borders and barriers. And it’s your support makes all that possible.

Together, we can end this awful disease.

Learn more about how we’re supporting families during the coronavirus outbreak here

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