Reducing distancing rule to one metre would increase coronavirus infection risk

Henrietta Brewer
June 2, 2020

"Our findings are the first to synthesize all direct information on COVID-19, SARS, and MERS, and provide the now best available evidence on the optimum use of these common and simple interventions to help 'flatten the curve, '" said Holger Schünemann, who helped lead the research and is also from McMaster University, per the outlet.

The authors said their findings have immediate and important implications for curtailing the current pandemic, and future waves, by informing disease models, and standardising the definition of who has been "potentially exposed" for contact tracing.

Two meters is more effective when it comes to social distancing over one meter when it comes to lowering the risk of coronavirus transmission.

The risk of infection from not wearing an eye covering was 16 percent compared to six percent when wearing eye protection.

'Governments and the public health community can use our results to give clear advice for community settings and healthcare workers on these protective measures to reduce infection risk'.

The current prescribed one metre physical distancing has a large protective effect but two metres would be far more effective, researchers said on Monday in the most comprehensive assessment yet of precautions to prevent person-to-person spread of the new coronavirus.

Researchers looked at 44 related studies involving almost 26,000 people that had caught either Covid, Sars and Mers.

In a review that pooled evidence from 172 studies in 16 countries, researchers found frequent handwashing and good hygiene are also critical - though even all those measures combined cannot give full protection.

"We're hoping that our findings will lead to uniform best practices wherever they can be adopted", Holger Schunemann, professor of clinical epidemiology at McMaster University in Canada who led the study told The Telegraph over telephone. "If facilities have the space, great, but if people are diligent about wearing masks, we may not need to keep to 6 feet".

Policies and the science behind them might change, Schünemann said, but right now, this review provides the "best available evidence" on how to prevent the virus from spreading.

Still, the Canadian study found that face masks, eye protection and keeping at least 3 feet away from people gives you the best chance of avoiding infection. What's more, for every extra 3 feet (up to 10 feet, or 3 m), the risk of infection or transmission of these coronaviruses was reduced by half.

The study looked at the available evidence from the scientific literature and is the first time researchers have systematically examined the optimum use of these protective measures in both community and healthcare settings for COVID-19.

"For health-care workers and administrators, our findings suggest that N95 respirators might be more strongly associated with protection from viral transmission than surgical masks".

Since the beginning of the outbreak, more than 375,000 people have died globally from Covid-19 complications.

With face masks, the chance of infection or transmission was 3% with a mask compared with 17% without a mask, a reduction of more than 80%. Finally, the effect of duration of exposure on risk for transmission was not specifically examined.

Lead author, professor Raina MacIntyre from the Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales in Australia, noted that the report found that respirators and multilayer masks are more protective than single layer masks. Until then, the new study in the journal Lancet provides reassurance that masks do help. "Although medical masks do protect, the occupational health and safety of health workers should be the highest priority and the precautionary principle applied".

In a linked comment, one expert says homemade cloth masks are not as effective as masks that have water-resistant fabric, multiple layers, and good facial fit.

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