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The importance of social distancing

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Governments all over the globe are asking their citizens to practice ‘social distancing’, but what is it and how does it help?

On March 11th, 2020 the World Health Organisation upgraded the COVID-19 outbreak to pandemic status, meaning that the virus had spread to a significant portion of the world. The virus behind the diseases, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (or more snappily, SARS-CoV-2), is highly infectious, spreading easily from person to person. COVID-19 is a new disease and scientists the world over are frantically developing a vaccine, but as of yet one has not been created. Our best defence against this virus is therefore a ‘social vaccine’.

Social distancing involves reducing your contact with other individuals through working from home, reducing your use of public transport, avoiding meeting groups of people and reducing visits to friends and family. The aim of this is to both reduce the chance of you getting infected and reduce the chance of an infected individual spreading the infection to others.

A pandemic can be ‘fast’ or ‘slow’. A fast pandemic occurs when a lot of people get ill at once; the danger of this is that the NHS’s capacity would be overwhelmed. Difficult choices would have to be made about who gets into hospitals and who does not, and many would be left without help. In a slow pandemic people get ill over a longer period; this means that the NHS’s resources would be less stretched. Social distancing measures are estimated to reduce the ‘peak’ of the pandemic by 50% – 60% and reduce deaths by 30% – 45%.

As jarring and unpleasant as these measures might be, it’s important to try and keep to them as much as possible during this crisis. Reducing the spread of COVID-19 through the population is a matter of life and death to a lot of people, and we should all aim to do our bit to help in the effort.

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Fergus Elliott

Science Editor | 19-20

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