Standing 2m apart halves the risk of Covid-19 infection according to latest study

Commuters queueing at the bus interchange in Woodlands on March 27, 2020.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Due to the coronavirus situation, many countries have adopted measures such as safe distancing and the use of face masks, to lower the risk of infection.

As most people are not used to these measures and find them a hassle, the question that we all have is: Do these measures actually work?

Yes they are effective to a certain extent in lowering the spread of the virus, according to a study published in The Lancet journal on Monday (June 1). 

Through a review of evidence from 172 studies in 16 countries, it was observed that physical distancing, face masks and eye protection impacts the spread of diseases such as Covid-19, SARS and MERS in both community and healthcare settings, though it's not able to give 100 per cent protection against the spread. 

Here's a breakdown of what was discovered from the study:

Social distancing: The further apart, the better 

Data showed that keeping a social distance of at least one metre, as advised by the World Health Organisation, reduces the chances of getting infected by 80 per cent.

Standing one metre apart also has a lower risk of infection of three per cent and that risk is halved if the distance is increased to two metres. 

In an interview with The Guardian, professor Holger Schunemann who co-led the research, said that a social distancing of two metres might therefore be more effective than one.

On the other hand, the risk of infection increases by about four times – from three per cent to 13 per cent – if you are within a metre distance from another person.

Face masks: Best to wear, but you won't be immune

PHOTO: Unsplash

What about the effectiveness of face masks? Evidence from 10 studies in the review found that wearing a face mask could reduce virus transmission to three per cent, compared to 17 per cent without.

The N95 and other respirator-type masks offer the best protection against virus transmission compared to surgical or cloth masks and should be used by workers in the healthcare sector.

For the general public, wearing surgical and cloth masks is sufficient for protection against the virus.

However, as the evidence mainly looked at mask use within households and among contacts of infected cases, the findings were of low certainty.

Hence, people should be aware that while a face mask acts as an extra layer of protection, it should not be an alternative to other safety measures such as social distancing and hand-washing.

Eye shields: Wear them for lower risk of infection

PHOTO: Unsplash

Based on 13 studies that focused on eye protection, results found that face shields, goggles and glasses had a lower risk of infection compared to without eye protection.

The risk of infection with eye protection was six per cent, compared to 16 per cent without any. However, the authors stated that the certainty of evidence for eye protection is low.

While the verdict is still not out on how effective these measures that most governments across the world have adopted, the general consensus is to be better safe than sorry. Adhere to these safety measures and others like frequently washing your hands to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and sound.

trining@asiaone.com