An article published in The Lancet on 1 June* analyses the most comprehensive study to date to describe optimal physical distancing, face mask use, and eye protection to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and says social distancing of just 1 metre may be sufficient to slow transmission.
This is a useful read for textile care businesses getting set to re-open or increase production as lockdown eases and more of the workforce get back into post as it has implications for setting up workspaces and customer-facing areas.
The study found that 1 metre distancing may be sufficient to reduce the risk of infection. If adopted in the UK, this could mean hospitality businesses could get back on their feet earlier, which would potentially be good news for the textile care operators in that sector.
However, according to the analysis published in The Lancet, modelling suggests for every extra metre further away up to three metres, the risk of infection or transmission may halve.
In the UK people are advised to keep a distance of two metres from others, but in Germany, for example, 1.5 metres is the rule. There have already been calls for the UK to follow suit to help the hospitality industry recover sooner. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends people maintain a distance of at least one metre between one another.
The meta-analysis and systematic review by the Lancet included 172 observational studies looking at how non-pharmaceutical interventions affect the spread of Covid-19, MERS and SARS across 16 countries. It found keeping at least one metre from other people, wearing face coverings and eye protection, in and outside of health-care settings, could be the best way to reduce the chance of viral infection or transmission of Covid-19.
However, it says, none of these interventions provides complete protection from infection and some of the findings around face masks and eye protection are supported by low-certainty evidence, with no completed randomised trials addressing Covid-19 for these interventions.
The report sums up the implications of all the available evidence and says:
“In view of inconsistent guidelines by various organisations based on limited information, our findings provide some clarification and have implications for multiple stakeholders.
“The risk for infection is highly dependent on distance to the individual infected and the type of face mask and eye protection worn. From a policy and public health perspective, current policies of at least 1 m physical distancing seem to be strongly associated with a large protective effect, and distances of 2 m could be more effective.
“These data could also facilitate harmonisation of the definition of exposed (eg, within 2 m), which has implications for contact tracing. The quantitative estimates provided here should inform disease-modelling studies, which are important for planning pandemic response efforts. Policy makers around the world should strive to promptly and adequately address equity implications for groups with currently limited access to face masks and eye protection.
“For health-care workers and administrators, our findings suggest that N95 respirators might be more strongly associated with protection from viral transmission than surgical masks. Both N95 and surgical masks have a stronger association with protection compared with single-layer masks. Eye protection might also add substantial protection.
“For the general public, evidence shows that physical distancing of more than 1 m is highly effective and that face masks are associated with protection, even in non-health-care settings, with either disposable surgical masks or reusable 12–16-layer cotton ones, although much of this evidence was on mask use within households and among contacts of cases.
“Eye protection is typically under-considered and can be effective in community settings. However, no intervention, even when properly used, was associated with complete protection from infection. Other basic measures (eg, hand hygiene) are still needed in addition to physical distancing and use of face masks and eye protection.
* Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis Derek K Chu, Elie A Akl, Stephanie Duda, Karla Solo, Sally Yaacoub, Holger J Schünemann, and others.
The Lancet, published 1 June