What is ‘social distancing’ and why experts say it can help protect us from COVID-19 2
Photo by George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

What is ‘social distancing’ and why experts say it can help protect us from COVID-19

The public is advised to practice “social distancing” to minimize virus transmission in the community.
Rhia Diomampo Grana | Mar 09 2020

It seems like it’s not a good time to be clingy or sociable these days as everyone’s on heightened alert due to newly reported COVID-19 cases in the country. Many have already pulled the plug on various local events as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19 virus. Classes have been suspended in all levels in Metro Manila starting tomorrow, March 10, until March 14. Some companies are already encouraging a work-from-home setup.  

Are these sensible steps to take, or are we overreacting? Is social distancing a practical move?

In a video produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), Technical Lead of the Infection and Prevention Control Benedetta Allegranzi explains that COVID-19 virus “can spread through respiratory droplets, which are liquids that may come out when we cough or sneeze. For this reason, it’s very important to avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough or other respiratory symptoms.”

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In practical terms, WHO recommends at least one-meter (three feet) distance from a sick person. The international health organization also advises people to avoid shaking hands, hugging, or kissing people with known COVID-19 symptoms.

In an interview for Amanpour and Company, Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, clarifies that social distancing doesn’t mean isolation but finding ways to minimize certain types of contact. Handshaking is a potential threat because people are continually touching their face. “They are putting their hands to their nose, mouth, other mucus membranes… So some of these things that we do, which are part of our social mores, I think we’re going to have to forego for a while,” he points out.

A safer alternative to the usual handshake, he says, is to reach for the arm of a person, greet with a fist bump, an elbow bump, or simply gesture a “Namaste.”

Dr. Mario Panaligan, the incoming president of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), advises against the holding of conferences involving a large number of people. “If the assembly involves more than 10 people, it’s better to do it via video conference,” he says. In the medical community, they have disallowed the holding of conferences for now, lest they run the risk of getting infected by the contagious virus. Similarly, he advises against holding parties or social gatherings at the moment, and to avoid close contact to people with any type of respiratory infection.

He also has a sensible advise to commuters. “Bring alcohol with you at all times for hand hygiene. You can also use a tissue to touch surfaces; be sure to throw the tissue after,” he says.

Dr. Panaligan says it’s best to make it a habit to practice infection control measures, and give utmost attention to good hygiene. “If possible, avail of the seasonal flu vaccine—the new one should be available around March or April this year,” he stresses.

Social distancing measures

A study published by Social Science Research Network (SSRN), a research platform based in Australia, indicates that in China, social distancing and hygiene interventions effectively helped in constraining the widespread transmission of COVID-19. The researchers recommend these measures:

What is ‘social distancing’ and why experts say it can help protect us from COVID-19 3
What is ‘social distancing’ and why experts say it can help protect us from COVID-19 4

From "Pre-Emptive Low Cost Social Distancing and Enhanced Hygiene Implemented before Local COVID-19 Transmission Could Decrease the Number and Severity of Cases” by Craig Dalton, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle; Stephen Corbett, School of Population Health and Western Clinical School, University of Sydney; Anthea Katelaris, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, The Australian National University


Dr. Panaligan shares that after holding an interagency task force meeting on emerging infectious disease today, March 9, the government came up with a resolution to implement social distancing measures in the National Capital Region.