Social distancing rules ‘based on outdated science’, study suggests
Friday, 28 August 2020
Social distancing is outdated and measures should be adapted according to the situation, a new study suggests.
“Rigid safe distancing rules are an oversimplification based on outdated science and experiences of past viruses,” argued the authors of the study, which was published in the medical journal BMJ this week.
“Physical distancing should be seen as only one part of a wider public health approach to containing the covid-19 pandemic,” they said.
A set of factors should be taken into account to determine whether the distance rule recommended by the health authorities is sufficient, insufficient or superfluous, according to the researchers.
This concerns ventilation, the density of the occupation, the duration of exposure, whether or not face masks are being worn. The noise level at which people talk also is a factor, as the louder, the more and further people spread droplets.
“Instead of single, fixed physical distance rules, we propose graded recommendations that better reflect the multiple factors that combine to determine risk,” said the researchers from Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For example, in a well-ventilated place with people close to each other, the risk is low if people wear face masks, talk without shouting and don’t stay long.
The risk increases if people shout or sing, even if they wear a mask and only stay for a short time.
Poor ventilation in an enclosed space, with or without a mask, is a major risk according to the study.
Recently, the French-speaking region of Belgium decided to reduce its social distancing rule to one metre in cultural venues as of 1 September, though wearing a mask in an event hall will remain compulsory from the age of 12, except for artists on stage..