Physical distancing, not social distancing- WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) is discouraging the use of the phrase ‘social distancing’. The organization urges people to use the phrase ‘physical distancing’ instead.

This, the WHO country office says, is to provide a clear understanding that the governments’ directives to stay home amid the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak is not about breaking social contacts with family and friends but about keeping a physical distance to ensure the disease doesn’t spread.

In an attempt to prevent the widespread of COVID-19, the governments across the world are encouraging people to avoid public gatherings.

Here in Bhutan, people coming into the country from abroad are being quarantined for at least two weeks, schools and colleges have been closed, entertainment centres and pubs are asked to suspend operations for an indefinite time, and events that draw huge crowds are being cancelled or postponed. These measures previously referred to as social distancing was proposed to prevent the spread of the virus. Now the WHO says it should rather be called physical distancing and not social distancing. The WHO country office explains why.

“But what I would like to emphasize here is physical distancing. Why I say that is because some people those in the quarantine need social interaction. Now it is easy through social media. By definition, social interaction can be done using social media. So what we mean here is physical distancing,” said Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, the WHO Representative to Bhutan.

The question now remains as to what is the science behind it all? Why should one consider maintaining a physical distance while interacting with people? Or why should people say yes to quarantine?

“This disease will be transferred from one person to the another through droplets when you cough out, the droplets contain the virus. The science is that when you cough or sneeze it will not go for more than one metre or three feet. So physical distancing is that when we interact with people we need to keep a distance of a minimum of one metre. The other things like the closure of schools, avoiding public gatherings- the basis for these is in fact these simple science. So that is why government is taking very appropriate steps to discourage public gatherings,” he added.

An assessment conducted by the WHO concludes that one affected person has the potential to infect between two to three people which otherwise can be avoided if people practise physical distancing.

“You see what happened in China. They locked down the whole city of 10 or 11 million people. So people do not interact and now you see that as of yesterday there is no new case in that particular city. So it shows that physical distancing is in fact working well,” he further added.

Countries around the world are taking physical distancing seriously with many States going into complete lockdown as the number of infected cases soars every day. And science has no answer as to how long it would last. In countries like the UK, the government’s scientific advisers say that physical distancing would be needed for at least half of the year.

Phub Gyem

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