Use the ‘garlic-breath test’ to stay Covid-safe, says expert

‘If you can smell your friend’s lunch’ you’re too close, and might inhale coronavirus

People should use the “garlic-breath test” to tell if they are too close to another person, and so potentially allowing coronavirus transmission to occur, an expert has said.

According to Dr Julian Tang, a consultant virologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary, in England, and lead author of a new study published in the British Medical Journal, focusing on hand-washing and sanitising is the wrong emphasis.

“The way this virus transmits is really through conversational distance, within one metre,” he told Sky News. “When you’re talking to a friend or sharing the same air as you’re listening to your friend talking, we call it the garlic-breath distance. So if you can smell your friend’s lunch you’re inhaling some of that air as well as any virus that’s inhaled with it. And this is why we say that masking is fine, social distancing is fine, but the indoor airborne environment needs to be improved – and that can be done with ventilation.”

His article in the BMJ emphasises the importance of aerosol transmission of the virus, as the "tiniest suspended particles can remain airborne for hours... People are much more likely to become infected in a room with windows that can't be opened or lacking any ventilation system."

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The article went on: “It is now clear that Sars-CoV-2 transmits mostly between people at close range through inhalation. This does not mean that transmission through contact with surfaces or that the longer-range airborne route do not occur, but these routes of transmission are less important during brief everyday interactions over the usual 1-metre conversational distance. The transmission of Sars-CoV-2 after touching surfaces is now considered to be relatively minimal.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul of the British Medical Association said the article emphasised how crucial clean airflow was. "As restrictions are eased, and there is greater mixing between people in enclosed spaces, it is vital that measures are taken to ensure adequate ventilation. A failure to ensure adequate levels of ventilation in indoor areas runs the serious risk of a rebound increase in Covid-19 infections. Crucially, patients and the public need to know they are as safe as they can be and at low risk of becoming infected with Covid-19 when they return to the office, go shopping or go into leisure settings." – Guardian