Undoubtedly, the global outbreak of COVID-19 has affected us all in previously unimaginable ways. And while many have settled into a bubble with their nearest and dearest, there are others left alone, isolated and anxious for the fate of their loved ones. 

To support these people, New Zealand Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links service is checking on the health and wellbeing of those who have lost contact with their loved ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If all usual means of communication fail, New Zealand Red Cross can help. We are here, ready to trace family members and report on the health and wellbeing of people in New Zealand to their families overseas. We also work with our Red Cross and Red Crescent colleagues around the world to seek answers for Kiwis here about their family members overseas, in what can be a very difficult and stressful time,” says Rachel O’Connor, General Manager Migration. 

Restoring Family Links has a long history of reuniting loved ones. The service dates back to the 1859 Battle of Solferino in Italy when Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman and founder of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, came across a wounded soldier who asked that his family be informed of his fate. Believed to be the first time that family news was officially delivered from the battlefield, Restoring Family Links is one of Red Cross’ oldest and most vital services.

We’ve seen it used on our own shores this past year, both during the devastating tragedy that unfolded on Whakaari/White Island, as well as in the aftermath of the horrific terror attacks in Christchurch. Both events saw RFL in action, as they helped families to learn of one another’s whereabouts, and survivors to tell people, “I am alive. I am safe. I am OK.”

Now that we are facing a new tragedy, one that we have no end date for, the fear and uncertainty surrounding a crisis is catching. Whether it be a violent conflict, deadly earthquake, crippling disease or devastating eruption, our lives immediately stop to discover news of the ones we love.

“The new measures in place to keep Kiwis safe as we live through these uncertain times and face the ever-present threat of COVID-19 may feel stressful for many of us.  New Zealand Red Cross is working as hard as possible to bring certainty around the health status of sick family members.”