Reducing social distancing to 1m ‘could double risk’ of infection

New study suggests face coverings may be beneficial, but certainty of evidence is low

Opposition politicians and businesses have been pressing for a relaxation to Ireland’s 2m social-distancing rule. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Opposition politicians and businesses have been pressing for a relaxation to Ireland’s 2m social-distancing rule. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Cutting social distancing from 2m to 1m could double the risk of infection from coronavirus, a new study suggests.

Keeping a distance of more than 1m from other people is associated with a much lower risk of infection compared with less than 1m, while the risk of infection may halve for every metre up to 3m, research published in the Lancet suggests.

Opposition politicians and businesses have been pressing for a relaxation to Ireland’s 2m social distancing rule, saying a 1m rule would allow businesses to serve more customers while keeping low the risk of infection.

However, the Lancet study, which formed its conclusions from an analysis of nine pieces of research on the issue, puts the risk of infection at 3 per cent where people stand more than 1m away, compared with 13 per cent if within 1m.

The study, which was partially funded by the World Health Organisation, says the certainty of their evidence of physical distancing is moderate.

Face masks

Separately, the study finds that face coverings and masks might protect both healthcare workers and the general public against infection with Covid-19, and protective eye covering may also provide additional benefit, although the certainty of the evidence is low for both forms of protection.

Even when properly used and combined, none of these interventions offers complete protection, and other basic protective measures, such as hand hygiene, are essential to reduce transmission, it says.