The UK government has been advising people to stay at least two metres (three steps) away from anyone you don’t live with, or anyone not in your support bubble, to help stop the spread of coronavirus. But research from South Korea claims you can get infected over distances a far greater distance than this.
The study looked at how, under specific conditions, coronavirus could be transmitted across longer distances than previously thought possible.
The research, published in the Journal for Korean Medical Science, is based on three outbreaks in the country – one of which included a restaurant with no windows and poor ventilation.
It comes after experts claimed Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme led to an increase in coronavirus cases, due to people sitting closely together in restaurants.
While the study only looked at a relatively small number of cases in a country not as hard hit by the virus as others, the researchers conclude that better guidelines are needed to deal with the potential risk.
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The current advice in the UK for restaurant owners is to “remind your customers to wear face coverings in any indoor space or where required to do so by law, for instance using signage or a verbal reminder”.
Official figures suggest South Korea has dealt much better with the pandemic than the UK and other countries in the Western world.
As of today, South Korea has had 36,915 cases and 540 deaths, while the UK has seen 1.69 million cases and 60,617 deaths.
South Korea’s early lockdown and test and trace system are said to have helped suppress an early outbreak of the virus.
The study was carried out after a number of outbreaks in the country were believed to have been linked to long distance droplet transmission.
In the case of the restaurant, it was found the air flow between the person with COVID-19 and the person who caught it may have played a role in the spread.
The report states: “On June 17, there was a new confirmed COVID-19 case in Jeonju, Korea, considered as transmitted by droplets at 6.5 m away from the infector and 5 minutes exposure in a restaurant with air conditioning.
“It is important to know how [the illness] is transmitted between people in various situations.
“In conclusion, droplet transmission can occur at a distance greater than 2m if there is direct air flow from an infected person in an indoor setting.
“Therefore, updated guidelines for quarantine and environmental management of COVID-19 are needed until approval of an effective treatment drug or vaccine.”
The NHS offers some other way to avoid spreading a coronavirus infection.
It advises washing your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds, and use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
You should wash your hands as soon as you get home, and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards.
Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clear.
You must also wear a face covering on public transport, in shops, and when you go to hospital appointments or visit someone in hospital.