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Coronavirus outbreak: Everything you need to know about social distancing

Social distancing is an effective way to slow down the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic

BS Web Team  |  New Delhi 

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As several countries around the world have started ordering the shutdown of schools, colleges, gyms, restaurants, cinema halls, swimming pools and other recreational spots, it is important to understand how the concept of social distancing is instrumental to curb the spread of the (Covid-19) infection.

People are urged to stay indoors, reduce social interactions, refrain from spreading misinformation and rumours, and prioritise public safety to prevent the fast-spreading Covid-19. World Health Organisation (WHO) and other health agencies have recommended resorting to social distancing in the wake of pandemic which has taken the entire world by storm.

Yet, there are some people who are not practising the drill as they either believe summers would curtail the outbreak or they have faith that nothing will happen to them. Those, who have been tested positive for Covid-19 are advised to self-isolate at home or medical wards.

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Cities are being locked down, large gatherings banned, postponed or cancelled, and many quarantined in their homes on the advice of public health departments and agencies.

So what does the term ‘social distancing’ mean? Here's a guide to help you make sense of the vocabulary when it’s really a matter of maintaining as much personal space as possible.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is a term applied to certain actions of individuals to stop or slow down the spread of a highly-contagious disease. According to WHO, the most important rule in social distancing, is to maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. It’s important to check with your state government and public health authority to find about the guidance issued.

Should I go to work?

It’s important to check with the plan shared by your manager or employer regarding the directions issued for offices to be closed and employees to work from home. Representatives of the corporate sector have agreed to let their employees work from home in view of the outbreak. Many companies also agreed to hold virtual meetings instead of in-person interactions and are spreading awareness towards combating the disease, including respiratory etiquettes. Companies have also recommended that employees with underlying health conditions should stay home and away from other people.


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Firms have ensured that employees who become sick while travelling should notify their supervisor and promptly call a healthcare provider for suggestion, if needed.

Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms can lessen the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running efficiently.

Even in the sports world, with spectator games and events are postponed. Theaters, restaurants, museums, and concert halls where groups of people gather are closing their doors. Students are also advised to stay at home and online education is being promoted.

Can I use public transport?

Public transport becomes highly-vulnerable to disease outbreaks such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Travelling in trains, buses, and cars can be an ideal setting for respiratory diseases to spread and may even increase the risk in certain situations.

Public transport can be regarded as infection hotspots as the rate of virus transmission is much higher for those using vehicles. Planes, trains and buses provide the environment for droplet-spread diseases such as coronavirus (Covid-19) to easily thrive. Commuters, who undertake long journeys or use busy interchange stations, are likely to be more at risk to come into contact with more infected people and shared surfaces.

Those most at risk were found to be commuters who have long journeys or use busy interchange stations, as they come into contact with more shared surfaces and people. Governments are issuing instructions through notifications and announcements to citizens to stay healthy on their daily commute, business trip or holiday.

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While travelling, people should use hand sanitisers, disinfectants and clean wipes during the rides. Try to minimise contact with other people in crowded vehicles. Wear a mask so that others don’t become uncomfortable if you sneeze or cough. Surfaces that are most-commonly touched in the public transport setting are very likely to transfer any kind of virus. Most importantly, people should avoid non-essential travel as advised by the governments across the world.

Can I get groceries from outside?

There is a fear among people after the coronavirus was declared as a pandemic. Many are stocking up on supplies as food, and other essential commodities have been quickly disappearing from supermarket shelves in signs of panic-buying. People should remember that they should not buy out the entire stock at a local grocery store. The situation is not such that retailers will be unable to meet the demand of consumers, and it's also important to keep the needs of others in consideration and not overbuy.

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In order to keep grocery stores less crowded, think about how many can come along with you. Kids probably shouldn't shop for food unless they are old enough to help and can be counted on to keep their hands off unclean surrounding, and other items in the store.

When you go for the shopping, use a sanitiser to wipe off the commonly-touched areas like carts and handles. Use a sanitiser or wash your hands, immediately after leaving the billing queue, especially if you used touch screen or swiping machine for payment.

When you get to the store, use a sanitizing wipe to rub down high-touch areas like cart and basket handles. Use hand sanitizer, or wash your hands, immediately after leaving the checkout lane, especially if you used any type of touch screen for payment.

Can I go for a walk?

People can go for a walk only in their immediate neighbourhood, provided if they keep a safe distance from others. However, health ministries have recommended people to go outside and engage in outdoor activity, such as running and walking as long as people exercise safe social distancing, and not gather in groups.

Coronavirus, which originated in China's Wuhan city in December last year, has spread to more than 100 countries so far, infecting over 1,30,000 people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared coronavirus a pandemic.

First Published: Wed, March 18 2020. 11:20 IST
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