One metre or two? The science behind social distancing

What constitutes a safe distance when it comes to the spread of COVID-19? The answer depends on where you live.

China, Denmark and France recommend social distancing of one metre; Australia, Germany and Italy recommend 1.5 metres, and the US recommends six feet, or 1.8 metres. The UK, meanwhile, is reconsidering its relatively large two-metre distancing rule, but has attracted criticism from top scientists for doing so.

The truth is, we don’t yet know how far is far enough when it comes to coronavirus. A recent study found the virus in air as far as four metres away from infected patients in a COVID-19 ward. But another study, touted by the WHO, concluded that the risk of transmission becomes significantly lower with a distance of one metre or more from an infected person, reducing further with increased distance.

Why such a range of “safe” distances? That’s because social distancing is a complex problem with many variable influencing factors. Here are four of the most important ones.

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