This is how you should be social distancing – depending on where you are and what you’re doing

(Yohann Libot, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Harry Kretchmer, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Current COVID-19 social distancing rules are too rigid and need to reflect real-life risks better, say Oxford and MIT researchers.
  • They have broken-down situations into high- and low-risk categories – including speaking and singing.
  • In some situations we should probably relax restrictions, they advise, and in others, increase them.
  • The researchers say airflow is also a major factor in dispersing infectious droplets carrying the virus.

Two-metre social distancing was born in 2020, right?

Wrong. It’s more than 100 years old and was proposed by German scientist Carl Flügge in 1897. What’s more, recent research has found that droplets from sneezes can travel up to eight metres. So is standard distancing guidance out of date?

Concern about such facts has led to a new ‘traffic light’-style chart by researchers from Oxford and MIT, published in medical journal, The BMJ.

They argue that the 1-2 metre safe distancing guidance is “an oversimplification” based on “outdated science”. Instead, they favour a more nuanced model based on context and risk. Standing silently next to someone outdoors creates a much lower chance of transmission, they say. But a long time in a noisy bar is seen as riskier.

So is it time for a rethink?

The ‘traffic light’ chart

The central idea behind the chart is that “environmental influences are complex” and require different, appropriately calibrated responses.

The chart shows that the highest risk situations (in red) are where there is ‘high occupancy’ over a prolonged period. Quiet, short, ‘low occupancy’ gatherings with just a few people outdoors are the least risky (green).

The accompanying report gives the example, in recent months, of the hundreds of workers at meat processing plants around the world who have tested positive for COVID-19.

One explanation for these high transmission rates is the difficulty of workers on fast-moving production lines to stay enough apart. Other factors include the likelihood of background noise, which can lead to shouting – dispersing infectious droplets.

“Similar compound risk situations might occur in other crowded, noisy, indoor environments, such as pubs or live music venues,” the researchers say. coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

For such environments, “physical distancing beyond two metres and minimizing occupancy time should be considered,” they add.

But opposite scenarios are considered far less risky – like quiet contact, in an outdoor environment for a short time. “Less stringent distancing is likely to be adequate in low-risk scenarios,” the team says.

Finding the right distance

But once you start breaking down risks into sub-categories, things get complicated. Exactly how far apart should people be?

A study in 1948 found that, among a group of people with haemolytic streptococci infections, some of the bacteria from sneezing managed to spread almost 2.9 metres. But most of the participants produced large droplets that struggled to get beyond two metres. In other words – we are all different.

Yet policymakers need to find a response that works in the best way for the greatest number of people. And in the past, the majority experience has prevailed. So shouldn’t we just stick with 1-2 metres?

It’s complicated

No, say the report’s authors, who think the 1-2 metre view is outdated. They cite research showing eight out of 10 recent studies into “horizontal projection of respiratory droplets” (like sneezing) have found that particles can travel more than two metres and in some cases up to eight.

At the same time, scientists are becoming increasingly aware that airflow and ventilation is also a major factor in transmission. Without much airflow, droplets tend not to get far. But airflow patterns also pose a risk.

In a restaurant in China, 10 people within three separate families were infected with COVID-19 in an hour, even though they were sat at least two metres apart. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1298573184464236544&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.weforum.org%2Fagenda%2F2020%2F09%2Fchart-covid-19-social-distancing-rules-research%2F&theme=light&widgetsVersion=219d021%3A1598982042171&width=550px

Complexities like this guide the report’s overall recommendation that rules on distancing should “reflect the multiple factors that affect risk, including ventilation, occupancy, and exposure time”.

As the chart shows, it isn’t really possible to create a distance that works for everyone, because every situation is different.

In low-risk scenarios, the researchers say, a little less caution is likely to be safe. But when we’re in ‘red’ high-risk territory, we probably need to raise our guard.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Terrorism ‘spreading and destabilizing’ entire regions, Guterres warns States, at key Kenya conference

Here’s how we get businesses to harmonize on climate change

Drones are saving lives in Tanzania’s remote communities

Dignified health for all who live here

Austria, Italy, Portugal, Spain receive €279m after natural disasters in 2019

China, forever new adventures

A day that Berlin and Brussels would remember for a long time

I cycled over 6,000km across the United States to document climate change. Here’s what I learned

Climate action ‘both a priority and a driver of the decade’: Guterres

Antitrust: Commission consults stakeholders on guidance for national courts when handling disclosure information

No more lead in PVC to protect public health, say MEPs

Commission reviews relations with China, proposes 10 actions

Available mental health services: is it only about professionals or institutions?

UN rights experts ‘gravely’ concerned at spike in civilian casualties in north-west Myanmar following internet shutdown

COVID-19: Single market must emerge stronger from the crisis, say MEPs

Europe and the tragicomic ‘black sovranismo’

Humanitarian migration falls while labour and family migration rises

Facebook has built an AI-based tool that fixes the social network when it crashes

Africa’s future is innovation rather than industrialization

UN rights expert calls for civilian protection as fighting escalates between military and armed group

East Africa locusts threaten food insecurity across subregion, alerts UN agriculture agency

Migration crisis update: What are the chances of a fair deal at this EU Summit?

2021 EU budget must focus on supporting a sustainable recovery from the pandemic

David McAllister underlines the need for rapid progress in EU-UK negotiations

Prisons are failing. It’s time to find an alternative

This tool shows you which cities will flood as ice sheets melt

How to build a digital infrastructure that benefits emerging economies

A rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Yemen

Banking Union: ECOFIN and Parliament ready to compromise

4 ways family businesses can lead the pandemic recovery

Could electric vehicles pose a threat to our power systems?

GSMA Announces Final Event Lineup for Highly Anticipated 2019 “MWC Los Angeles, in Partnership with CTIA”

Summer 2018 Interim Economic Forecast: Resilient Growth amid increased uncertainty

“The winner is who can accelerate the transition to a new digital era”. The Sting reports live from EBS 2015: a Digital Europe 4.0

EU mobilises €21 million to support Palestine refugees via the UN Relief and Works Agency

EU: Divided they stand on immigration and Trump hurricanes

Under-fives’ daily screen time should be kept to 60 minutes only, warns WHO

Preventing the Pandemic of Mental Illness

COVID-19: Emerging technologies are now critical infrastructure – what that means for governance

Mario Draghi quizzed for last time by Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

MEPs and European Youth Forum call on EU to Invest in Youth

EU to host international donors’ conference for Albania to help with reconstruction after earthquake

Manufacturing is finally entering a new era

Business could learn plenty about cybersecurity from the secret state

In Bali, UN chief Guterres outlines importance of international financial cooperation for sustainable development

Detecting online child sexual abuse requires strong safeguards

The ‘yellow vests’ undermined Macron in France and the EU

UN conference agrees better ways for Global South countries to work together on sustainable development

How India is solving its cooling challenge

Meet Alice, the battery-powered plane that could herald the age of electric air travel

Kids who live in the countryside have better motor skills, a study in Finland has found

Cohesion Policy after 2020: preparing the future of EU investments in health

MEPs demand an end to migrant deaths across the Mediterranean Sea

Search Engine neutrality in Europe in danger: Are 160.000 Google filtering requests good enough?

Our children’s career aspirations have nothing in common with the jobs of the future

World Editors Forum President: Credible media vital in the fight against COVID-19 and fake news epidemic

Coronavirus: here’s what you need to know about face masks

Donor countries set international standard for preventing sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in development sector

Can medical students be prepared for Global Health ethical issues?

Merkel refuses to consider the North-South schism of Eurozone

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s