Social distancing: How far apart is safe?
I hope you are healthy and well. Here’s what I’ve learnt this week from Metafact experts:
The 2metre rule is based on science, but impractical in crowded cities
This week on Metafact we had Dr Mohamed Elhakim, an epidemiologist from the World Health Organisation, share important advice about the precautions we should all be doing as individuals during the pandemic. One rule you’ve probably heard is to keep a social distance of at least 1m (3ft) from people to avoid cough/sneeze droplet transmission. But the United States CDC advises 2m (6ft), while the Australian government says 1.5m! Three different pieces of advice. Confusing?
To help give us clarity, this week I asked 3 experts including Professor David Hui, based in Hong Kong, who is one of the world’s top infectious disease experts specializing in understanding the transmission of coronaviruses like MERS.
Respiratory droplets can travel between 1 to 1.8m. Thus 2m is a safe distance.
writes Prof Hui.
We also had Dr Philip Russo from Monash University share a more detailed answer of the science behind the 1-2m social distance rule.
Despite the somewhat differing advice from WHO to the CDC, all you need to know is to make sure you keep as large a possible distance between other people as you can, since the coronavirus can be spread from person to person when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes or talks. So people in close contact are at high risk, BUT for crowded cities, the social distance rule doesn’t work writes Prof Hui.
The 2m distance alone does not help in crowded cities. Keeping a safe distance alone would not be effective in crowded cities such as Hong Kong. There is simply no room to move in a packed train station, inside the train/bus or in a busy shopping mall or restaurant when someone coughs or sneezes.
In Hong Kong [or other crowded cities] we would recommend wearing a surgical mask and regular hand hygiene when traveling by public transport or walking in crowded areas.
So even though wearing masks are not needed for the general public, if you are in crowded confined spaces like a packed train - then it will help everyone. Even a DIY mask can help.
Soap is the best virus killer
This week we also had Professor Palli Thordarson a chemist from UNSW Sydney give a wonderfully insightful explanation of how and why soap is the best virus killer of all.
Soap works so well on the SARS-CoV-2 because…the soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and "dies", or rather, we should say it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive.
writes Professor Thordarson.
Disinfectants, or liquids, wipes, gels and creams containing alcohol (and soap) have a similar effects but are not really quite as good as normal soap. Soap is the best but alcohol wipes are good when soap is not practical or handy (e.g. office receptions).
You can read his long insightful answer here.
We are in this together, we need to protect the most vulnerable
Also this week Gideon-Meyerwitz Katz, our resident epidemiologist shared his expert perspective on what things we can do, at home, work and school during the pandemic. Beyond lowering the risk of getting infected, we should be taking responsibility ourselves to help protect the most vulnerable in our communities. The vast majority of us will recover from getting infected, but it’s the elderly and immune comprised who are very vulnerable to coronavirus. As a society, individuals have to take collective action to help others. We are in this together!
Stay safe and may the facts be with you!
Ben McNeil, Founder of Metafact
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