Optimising physical distancing to reduce the spread of Covid-19: Behavioural science and disease prevention guidance for public health. Taking a Behavioural Science approach

Jo Hart, Lucie Byrne-Davis, Tracy Epton, Daniela Ghio, John Drury, Christopher Armitage, Gillian Shorter, Madelynne A Arden, Paul Chadwick, Atiya Kamal, Lesley Lewis, Emily McBride, Daryl O'Connor, Vivien Swanson, Ellie Whittaker, Angel Chater

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Abstract

This guidance offers recommendations for interventions that can be used to encourage and enable physical distancing. The target behaviour for this guidance document is physical distancing, defined as staying 1–2 metres (depending on national guidance)apart from people in the same location. We are using the term ‘physical distancing’ as opposed to ‘social distancing’, in line with the World Health Organization and our earlier guidance.

Physical distancing is important when viruses are airborne, such as the virus that causes Covid-19. Remaining at a physical distance from others reduces the risk of aerosols and droplets entering the eyes, nose or mouth and therefore reduces the risk of spreading infection, particularly with physical distancing of 1 metre or more3. Many governments and health agencies have recommended people adhere to a physical distance of between1 metre4 to 2 metres5 from people who are not in their household or ‘bubble’. In general, people typically stand a little less than 1 metre away from familiar people and 1.3 metre away from others6. Whilst many people have started to physically distance, standing metres away requires breaking strong habits. Even where regulations do not require physical distancing, people might still be encouraged to distance where possible, in regions where transmission rates are rising or high.

This guidance is based on a systematic review of the evidence for interventions to encourage physical distancing and summarises the approaches that are effective in helping people to maintain physical distance from others. This included six papers, reporting 14 interventions with over 5500 people. There may be other approaches that could be effective but at present there is no evidence for or against them. It is important to note that some of the evidence reports influences on intention to distance physically rather than the action of physical distancing itself.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherBritish Psychological Society
Commissioning bodyBritish Psychological Society
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2021

Keywords

  • physical distancing
  • social distancing
  • behaviour change
  • health psychology
  • public health

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