Social distancing: 2m is twice as good as 1m

04/06/20 . News

Readers of the UK press could be forgiven for being confused this week when the Daily Mail and the Guardian reported in apparently contradictory fashion on new Lancet research on social distancing.

The Daily Mail claimed that 'keeping one metre apart can slash the risk of catching coronavirus by 80 per cent' while the Guardian said that 'reducing physical distancing advice from 2 metres to 1 metre could double the risk of coronavirus infection'. To make matters more confusing, both are broadly true.

The Lancet study pulled together findings from 172 relevant studies related to Covid-19 and, mostly, to previous viruses such as SARS and MERS to arrive at a meta-analysis of the value of social distancing, face masks and eye protection.

The researchers conclude that social distancing is massively important. One metre reduces risk by 80% from a 13% risk of infection with no social distancing at all to a 3% risk at one metre. But, the researchers go on, the evidence suggests that 'for every 1m further away in distancing, the relative effect might increase 2·02 times'. In other words, you're twice as protected at 2m as at 1m.

The researchers say: 'the results of our current review support the implementation of a policy of physical distancing of at least 1m and, if feasible, 2m or more.'

So, the question governments have to wrestle with when offering social distancing guidance is: do you want a 3% risk of infection with 1m or a 1.5% risk with 2m?

  • Thanks to Full Fact, the UK's independent fact checking charity.

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