Ireland is Ignoring WHO Social Distancing Advice

Social distancing, a phrase which only entered our vocabulary in March 2020, has become the mainstay of the response to fighting COVID-19, and we are regularly reminded that we must follow the guidelines in our daily lives.

The government’s roadmap for re-opening puts social distancing at the core of recovery efforts. Many of the restrictions will only be lifted ‘where social distancing can be maintained’.

However, it appears as though the Irish government is not following the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) with regard to social distancing, and this could have massive implications for the recovery of many businesses, may lead to many unnecessary closures and a greater impact on the economy than would be necessary. It is worth noting that the WHO’s main objective is “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”

Credit where it’s due, the Irish government have been relentless in their promotion of social distancing, urging us to stay 2 metres away from others. Here is the exact wording from the Government website with regard to distancing rules:

  • maintain physical distancing, that is, leave at least 2 metres (6 feet) distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever. (Gov.ie COVID-19)

The WHO is not as extreme in their distancing advice. They maintain that 1 metre should be the minimum distancing requirement:

  • Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and others. Why? When someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person has the disease. (WHO.int)

This difference (1 metre v 2 metre) has massive implications for Irish Businesses. Many smaller businesses, with smaller premises or enclosed spaces such as restaurants, buses, trains would see a tremendous difference depending on which approach is taken. Classrooms and sports stadia are two other environments where this would make very big differences.

Under a 2 metre social distancing rule, allowing that the average person is 40cm wide, would mean their ‘personal space’ would be 15.21 square metres.

Under a 1 metre social distancing rule, allowing that the average person is 40cm wide, would mean their ‘personal space’ would be 4.52 square metres.

Let us now apply those figures to the floor area of a business. (When looking at these illustrations keep in mind the implications for businesses such as cafes, restaurants, cinemas, hairdressers etc)

Imagine each person as the centre-point of a circle. For the purpose of this illustration, we have taken the random floor size of 22 metres x 15 metres (308 square metres):

Under the Irish Government’s 2 metre social distancing policy, 15 people would fit in this area

However, if the WHO guidelines were followed, 4 times as many people would be able to fit into the same area:

Under the WHO’s 1 metre social distancing policy, 60 people would be able to fit into this area. As you can see, this is 4 times as many people in the same space.

The implications for businesses are obvious. Under WHO social distancing rules, business would be able to cater safely for 4 times as many people as they would under the Irish government equivalent.

Judging by the gushing praise given by Minister for Health Simon Harris to the WHO, it appears very unusual that he, as health minister, is not insisting their advice be followed:

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