Social distancing is a phrase that you may have heard often of late, but what exactly is it? Social distancing is the practise of changing behaviours that typically spread disease or infection.
This usually entails limiting social contact, working from home instead of the office, and in some cases, homeschooling children instead of sending them to school. Healthy individuals are often the ones who employ social distancing, as it is viewed as a way to reduce the size of an outbreak and minimise the spread.
Social distancing also means staying indoors as much as possible, and avoiding public spaces and unnecessary social gatherings.
According to Stuart Neil at King’s College in London, social distancing must be approached both rationally and sensibly. “It is also recommended that you avoid physical contact with others in social situations, including handshakes, hugs and kisses,” he says.
The World Health Organisation recommends maintaining a distance of at least a metre between the person social distancing and an individual who coughs or sneezes.
China has implemented strict social distancing measures in the Hubei province, where the coronavirus pandemic began as an epidemic in 2019. In addition to quarantining the entire region and building isolation facilities, the Chinese government reportedly used mobile phone tracking to monitor people’s movements and prevent those who had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus to travel.
Italy has the second-highest infection rate in the world, and is now under lockdown. The European commission has put forward plans to close European Union borders and restrict all non-essential travel in the Schengen area of countries that have no border controls between them. The UK government is advising its citizens to stop all non-essential contact with other people.
The following individuals are strongly advised to socially distance themselves:
– aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
– under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below:
*chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
*chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
*chronic kidney disease
*chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
*chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
*problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
*a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
*being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
*those who are pregnant
Many are wondering about the mental health implications that come with the coronavirus pandemic, and there are several resources available that advise on how to manage the fear, anxiety and increasing levels of depression that are linked to staying indoors with minimal contact with other individuals.
While it is encouraged to stay indoors as much as possible, you will need to leave the home at some point to stock up on essentials or simply take a walk. Here is what you can do while you practice social distancing:
– You can go for a walk or run outdoors if you stay one metre away from others
– You can see family and friends if it’s essential
– You can walk your dog
– You can provide essential care for elderly relatives and neighbours if you have no symptoms
– You can go to the shops to buy food and groceries
If you think you have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999