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26 May, 2020 06:07:06 PM

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Coronavirus: Can we stay safe as lockdown eases?

Independent Online/BBC
Coronavirus: Can we stay safe as lockdown eases?
The new research suggests coughs and sneezes might project liquid further than previously thought. Image credit: Getty

As lockdowns are eased all over the world, what are the risks of getting infected as people come into closer contact with each other?

It's a question that scientists have been exploring in a variety of settings including restaurants and offices.

Frustratingly, the evidence for how the virus can be transmitted is often slim and if the answers seem vague it's because the science is uncertain.

It comes amid pressure from businesses, such as pubs, to be allowed to reopen.

But the influence is also coming from people wondering if the rules are too strict.

What are the key factors?

The most obvious is distance.

Research that began in the 1930s showed that when someone coughs, most of the droplets they release either evaporate or fall to the ground within about one metre.

That's why the World Health Organization (WHO) settled on its "one metre" rule for social distancing.

Some governments have opted for a safer limit of 1.5m with the UK and others preferring an even more cautious 2m.

The guidance essentially means that the further you're apart, the safer you ought to be but it's not distance alone that matters.

The second key factor is timing - how long you're close to someone.

The UK government's advice is that spending six seconds with an infected person 1m away carries the same risk as spending one minute with them if they're 2m away.

And where it's not possible to keep your distance from a colleague, the aim is to limit the time together to 15 minutes.

But as well as timing, there's another important issue: ventilation.

Being outside carries the least risk because any virus released by someone infected will be diluted in the breeze.

That doesn't mean the possibility of transmission is zero.

Even out of doors, the UK's official advice is to stay 2m apart and, if you're closer, try not to talk face-to-face.

But inside, where there isn't much fresh air and where people might be close together for longer, the chances of becoming infected are obviously greater.

What are the risks indoors in a restaurant?

A fascinating insight comes from a study in the Chinese city of Guangzhou which tracked how a cluster of infections occurred.

Sitting at tables that were one metre apart, people were having a meal last January.

One of the diners was infected with coronavirus but hadn't realised because they had no symptoms.

But in the following days, another nine people who'd been in the restaurant at the time came down with Covid-19 - including five who'd been sitting at other tables several metres away.

 

SI

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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