Understanding the science behind social distancing and how it can truly save us from covid-19

Whether you like it or not, social distancing is a must if you want to protect yourself from covid-19. Here’s why.
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A big yes to social distancing. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Reuters Updated: 9 May 2021, 21:20 pm IST
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When it comes to covid-19 prevention there are three methods that are considered to be foolproof. One, washing and sanitizing your hands; two, wearing a mask; and lastly, social distancing. Although the distance while socializing is still a little debatable, there is no denying that it might be helpful in curtailing the chances of you getting an infection. 

In the month of May, a study published by the journal Science claimed that in countries like the US, people have to follow social distancing until 2022. But just this past Tuesday, Britain announced easing social distancing rules from July 4, reducing the recommended gap from 2 metres to “1 metre plus” in England as it further loosened lockdown measures meant to curb the covid-19 pandemic.

According to scientists, this might increase the risk of covid-19 spread
Infectious disease experts say the closer people are to someone infected with covid-19 and the more time people spend in closed quarters, the higher the risk that the coronavirus will spread from one person to another.

Beyond that simple reality, “it is just a matter of reducing risk with increased physical distance”, said Jonathan Reid, a professor of Physical Chemistry at Britain’s Bristol University.

“The further you stand away from someone, the fewer droplets you will be exposed to. One metre only prevents you from being exposed to the largest of droplets; two metres reduces your exposure – but doesn’t make it zero risk.”

A study in The Lancet this month found that physical distancing of at least 1 metre lowers the risk of covid-19 transmission, but that 2 metres could be more effective.

According to WHO, following the one-metre rule is a must
The WHO says keeping a distance of at least one metre helps reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading in the small liquid droplets that people spray out when they cough, sneeze, and talk.

These droplets may contain the virus, and “if you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets”, the WHO says.

According to reports social distancing really helps
Switzerland’s health ministry says that “according to current data, a distance of more than one meter reduces the risk of covid-19 infection by more than 80% in both healthcare (settings) and everyday life”.

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WHO and covid-19
Don’t let complacency let you think social distancing is a choice! Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

It added, however, that the risk is higher “in circumstances in which a particularly large number of droplets are expelled, such as when singing or speaking loudly”.

Shaun Fitzgerald, a professor of engineering at Britain’s University of Cambridge, said the key point is that “it’s not all about the distance”.

“There are other mitigation measures,” he said – including the duration of close proximity, the number of people in a given space, the use of face masks, availability of ventilation, and whether people talk quietly or shout loudly.

This what other are countries following
China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong and Singapore recommend social distancing of 1 metre, and many people also choose to or are required to, wear face masks in public spaces.

Also, listen:

Australia, Belgium, Greece, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal advise people to keep 1.5 metres apart. Switzerland this week also reduced the required distance to 1.5 metre from 2 metre. The guidance in the United States is six feet or 1.8 metre.

So, the bottom line is that social distancing is something everyone is recommending and revoking it will only invite more chaos and more cases of covid-19 and we don’t want that for sure. Therefore, it is better that we abide by the 6-feet rule and stay safe.

(Written by Kate Kelland for Reuters)

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