Two metre distancing ‘may not be enough’ in Britain’s pubs and clubs, scientists say

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Researchers suggest Covid-19 droplets expelled in coughs and sneezes may spread up to eight metres


One-Minute Read

The Week Staff

Wednesday, August 26, 2020 – 4:30pm

People may need to maintain a distance of far more than the UK’s recommended two metres from others in order to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in certain conditions, a new study suggests.

Just weeks after the official guidance in England and Northern Ireland was changed to “one metre-plus” for many public places, researchers at the University of Oxford have found that even the two-metre rule is based on “studies dating back up to 100 years ago and is too simplistic”, says the Daily Mail.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people from different households maintain a distance of at least one metre from each other, because “when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus”.

But the Oxford researchers say evidence suggests that how far virus-carrying droplets can spread depends on the specific environment. Yet previous research has failed to factor in these environmental conditions, and is “based on an outdated, dichotomous notion of respiratory droplet size”, the experts report.

In a research paper published in the British Medical Journal, they explain that “clouds of small droplets can travel beyond two metres in the air, and even large droplets have enhanced range”.

The team are calling for more stringent distancing rules to be introduced for bars, pubs and nightclubs, as indoor spaces that are poorly ventilated and where people often have to shout to be heard over music.

An analysis published in March by scientists at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that viral droplets expelled in coughs and sneezes can travel in a moist, warm atmosphere at speeds of up to 100ft per second and reach up to eight metres, as The Telegraph reported at the time.

Reporting their findings in a paper in Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama), the experts wrote that the current rules “are based on estimates of range that have not considered the possible presence of a high-momentum cloud carrying the droplets long distances”.

“Recommendations for separations of 3ft to 6ft (one metre to two metres) may underestimate the distance, timescale, and persistence” of coronavirus infected droplets in the air, they added.

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