Increasing social distancing gap unlikely to impact Covid-19 spread – Van-Tam

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he could not see how droplets containing the new virus strain would gain the extra distance ‘like in the long jump’.

Jonathan Van-Tam
Jonathan Van-Tam

Increasing the social distancing recommendation would have little impact on controlling the spread of coronavirus as the new variant is unlikely to make the virus travel further, England’s deputy chief medical officer has said.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he could not see how droplets containing the virus would gain the extra distance “like in the long jump”.

Reports have suggested Government scientists want the recommended gap increased from one metre, if mitigation measures such as masks or screens are in place, to two metres.

That would mean an increase in distancing from two metres to three metres without mitigation.

Prof Van-Tam told LBC Radio: “The question you are asking is whether the new variant is really going to be capable of moving a greater distance, and that doesn’t kind of fit with my biological understanding, because the distance relates to the force of the cough or the sneeze or the respiratory droplet that flies out of you.

“Unless we were saying that the variant makes you cough in a different way or cough more violently, I can’t see how you can gain that extra distance, like in the long jump as it were.”

He added that the viral load of the new variant is probably higher than the last strain, explaining why it is more infectious.

Prof Van-Tam said: “If you imagine a cloud of viruses around an infected person it’s not that they are, kind of, way out here – it’s the fact that within the cloud they are much more concentrated and if you breach those safety distances, the chances of you picking it up are higher, which is why its growth rate and its transmissibility is greater.”

On Tuesday, Professor Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, told the PA news agency the increased infectiousness of the new coronavirus variant may be reason enough to consider increasing the distance.

However, he added that if people were sticking to the current guidelines – which he suspected they were not – that should be good enough.

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