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3 June 2020

Social distancing and face masks work, study confirms

Medical journal The Lancet analysed data on measures against Covid-19 from 172 studies in 16 different countries. 

By Rohan Banerjee

Proactive measures taken against the Covid-19 pandemic, such as social distancing and wearing face masks, are succeeding in limiting the spread of the virus, a report has found.

The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, analysed data from 172 studies in 16 different countries. It found that, on average, a person has just a 3 per cent chance of contracting Covid-19 when wearing a face mask. Keeping a distance of one metre between people, meanwhile, reduces the risk of transmission to 2.6 per cent.

While some evidence used for the study was considered “low certainty”, The Lancet’s analysis shows that lockdown measures put in place by countries around the world and protective clothing work, and that they will be crucial in continued efforts to slow the spread of the virus. However, even combining social distancing and protective clothing will not be completely effective, the authors note, and  there will continue to be “some” level of risk while there is no vaccine available.

Governments across the globe have adopted different policies on how to keep their citizens safe. This is, in part, due to varying scientific advice given to respecitve governments. Politically, there has been friction caused by lockdown measures, as some people view them as infringements on their civil liberties, while others may argue that they have led to economic paralysis. Some businesses, such as those in the hospitality sector, rely on footfall for much of their income, and so have been left frustrated with calls to limit the number of customers they can have on their premises at any one time.

As the UK’s own lockdown measures begin to ease this week, the government has to consider how it can balance health and safety concerns alongside the logistics related to certain industries. “Social distancing would kill us,” Tom Ledsham, whose family runs The New Inn pub in Clapham, North Yorkshire, told Spotlight. He added that any post-pandemic pub regulations needed to be “realistic”.

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Ledsham said: “Personally, I think the social aspect of a pub, even more so than the drink or the food, is its core selling point. People to go to the pub to see their friends or their family. It [social distancing] would represent a bit of a logistical nightmare, to be honest, especially as there is no consistency in the size of venues.”

While it acknowledged the benefits of widespread face-mask use, The Lancet’s report said that governments should be mindful of supplies and not divert them from the “healthcare workers and other caregivers who are at the highest risk for infection”, and therefore prioritise accordingly.

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