Social distancing seems to be the big phrase everyone is using concerning the COVID-19 virus at the moment.
The now pandemic nature of this new “novel” coronavirus has led to public health officials recommending measures designed to “flatten the curve” and otherwise slow its spread.
Essentially boiling down to a recommendation to stay away from other people as much as possible, social distancing sounds simple. But it is a surprisingly large and difficult thing to ask people to do.
After all, we humans are social creatures. We like to see our friends and family, hang out and do things together. The need for communication and social interaction is wired into us at an evolutionary level.
But with the number of known coronavirus cases passing the 220 000 mark recently and the figure of 9000 global deaths rapidly approaching, something clearly has to be done.
Yet for people and for businesses, implementing social distancing is something sometimes easier said than done…
What is social distancing?
Social distancing is the public health tactic used to slow down the spread of highly contagious diseases. The general idea is to keep a “bubble” of safe space around yourself. The experts at the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) in the US define social distancing as:
“Remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 metres) from others when possible.”
Social distancing does not mean completely isolating yourself. It certainly does not mean you need to place yourself in a complete quarantine. Isolation and quarantine are measures which are being used in certain places and by certain individuals. But they are not the same as social distancing.
However, social distancing does mean staying out of group settings, avoiding large gatherings and trying to keep a bit of space around you when you do go out.
This bit of space is important. Because health officials are saying that COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through the droplets in coughs and sneezes of people less than six feet or two metres as well as via surfaces.
In short, social distancing is a system of behaviour designed to lower the risk of getting the virus.
How does social distancing work?
Social distancing is an important step to take if you are looking for sensible measures which will limit the chance you will catch the virus. But it is also about protecting your friends, family and other individuals around you as well as wider society.
For example, people over 70 years of age and with underlying health conditions are particularly at risk from COVID-19. Many people with underlying health conditions – especially the immunocompromised, of whom there are millions around the world – do not necessarily obviously stand out to the casual viewer. But they do not have the same protections as other people who might contract this coronavirus.
It is the responsibility of every healthy person to take measures which protect everyone else as well as themselves.
Yet at the same time, the whole concept of social distancing is built around and recognises the fact that not everyone can stay in their homes the entire time…
How do I implement social distancing?
Many people have jobs which cannot suddenly become home-based. Others are vital healthcare workers, are part of critical food supply chains or provide other vital services. These people need to be able to go to work and do their jobs in order to keep society going.
That is why social distancing measures do not go as far as complete isolation or quarantine. They are designed to slow the spread of contagious diseases and viruses while permitting necessary activity.
Implementing social distancing means doing things like:
- Choosing to work from home, if possible
- Not attending mass gatherings or events
- Not meeting up with multiple people
- Considering avoiding being in confined crowded spaces such as on public transport or in a lift
- Not travelling unnecessarily
- Leaving your house, but not getting too close to people when you do
On top of this, though it is not strictly part of social distancing practice, hygiene is more important than ever. Frequent hand washing is advised and the cleaning of public and shared spaces should be much more regular than normal.
How does social distancing impact businesses and society
Social distancing might sound boring. But it is also the behaviour which everyone needs to adopt if the spread of this new novel coronavirus is going to be brought to a halt.
Unfortunately, the behaviours involved in social distancing – while necessary – will have (and already have had) a massive impact on businesses and society.
Italy, where the spread of the virus has reached something approaching its peak, is in lockdown. Forty thousand people are set to face criminal charges over violating the new stay-at-home rules.
As well as Italy, the effects of the measures brought in to reduce the spread of COVID-19 can be felt across all layers of society in countries around the world:
The novel coronavirus’s impact on large events and companies is often the easiest to spot. These are the sorts of stories which make the news.
In the UK, for example, the Glastonbury music festival has been cancelled. Airline FlyBe has finally been forced to close, leaving several parts of the country with drastically reduced travel links. The internationally famous Football Premier League has stopped playing games – as have teams at every level.
It all follows the same practices first seen in China – where Disneyland Shanghai and hundreds of major Chinese New Year events were early casualties of the virus.
This is all because a key part of social distancing is to make sure that large groups of people are not in the same space at the same time.
Small and medium businesses
But it is really at the smaller, more local level of business where the effects of the virus are hitting hardest for most people.
Amongst the worst affected are the entertainment and hospitality industries, both of which are directly based on groups of people coming together at the same time. Numerous bars, pubs, restaurants, hotels and many others – most of whom do not have large financial reserves and cannot handle large interruptions in their cash flow – have been forced to close their doors or lay off numbers of employees.
Again, this follows patterns first seen in China, where the government acted quickly to shut down cinemas and movie theatres. But with the UK government, at time of writing, only “recommending” that people don’t go to their local pubs, bars and restaurants, many business owners are left in limbo.
Some have decided to keep their doors open – knowing it is against social distancing measures – because they fear that if they do close them, it may be for the final time.
Over 60% of businesses across Europe have already closed. Hopefully, most of them temporarily. In the Americas, around 80% or more are no longer open.
This has left millions of employees and business owners worried about not only the possible danger of catching the virus but also about their future even if they remain healthy. This is not to mention the millions of self-employed people who are facing uncertain times.
On the individual level, that worry and uncertainty may have serious consequences. Particularly when social distancing measures can exacerbate a feeling of isolation.
The measures which social distancing recommends do not completely preclude meeting up with people (as long as you keep your distance!). But prolonged periods of social isolation can have negative consequences.
The effects of depression, many types of anxiety, dementia and even the risk of heart disease and death are increased by severe social isolation. You can also be more prone to stress if you feel that you are socially isolated.
On the more positive side, this sudden reduction in social connectivity has prompted many people to come up with new and interesting ideas for how to stay connected. Numerous videos are circulating of Italians singing to each other from rooftops and balconies, for example.
Ways to overcome social distancing for business and personal needs
With large numbers of people suddenly finding themselves working from home (even in jobs where bosses had previously sworn it wasn’t possible), there is a sudden need to find even more ways to stay to connected with colleagues as well as friends and family.
Luckily, we live in an age where technology makes communication across large distances possible. There are many different ways to stay in touch, for both individuals and businesses:
Of course, text, email and phone calls are your basic distance communication tools. But using video conferencing apps like Skype or FaceTime means you can actually see the person you are talking to is better.
This is much better than faceless communication. That’s because a large amount of the value we get from social interactions comes from seeing the social cues in the facial expressions, gestures and body language of the people we are communicating with.
For people who are implementing social distancing in almost any form, it is important to:
- Check in – with your family, friends, close colleagues and neighbours regularly. Try to think of anyone who may be facing problems – the over 70s, people with no internet access or people who may live alone and be self-isolating, for example.
- Interact with who and how you can – why not spend the time getting to know your housemates better if you are in lockdown in shared accommodation? Or improve relationships with friends or family? Can you chat with your neighbours over the garden fence or from balcony to balcony without getting too close? Find connections wherever you can. Everyone will benefit from it.
- Use the tools you have – use your computer, smartphone and other tools to stay in touch. If you find you need to communicate with people who have some sort of hearing impairment, remember that there are video interpreting services for deaf or hard of hearing people available. The interpreter will be able to bridge the gap if you do not use any sign language yourself.
- Reach out to your community – being generous with your time on behalf of others in your community can pay dividends on a personal level too. If you have more time on your hands because of social distancing measures which you or your workplace have instituted, helping other people can give you a valuable sense of purpose. This is actually good for your own well-being as well as that of others.
- Manage your stress levels – as already touched upon, social isolation can play havoc with your stress response. With a little extra time on your hands, consider meditation, taking up yoga or tai chi (there are numerous online courses) or some other hobby which lets you reduce your stress.
For business and services
In particular for many small and medium businesses, social distancing measures mean trying to think of ways to deliver their services online or at a distance and telling employees to stay home – and hopefully, work from home so that they can get paid.
For companies implementing social distancing, some ideas might include:
- Deliver services online – delivering services which used to be handled in person over the internet is suddenly something which thousands of businesses are struggling with. People are coming up with truly inventive ideas every day. So it is worth taking the time to search online to see if anyone has come up with anything for your type of business.
- Keep your colleagues connected – working at a distance may involve more Skype calls than normal. But consider encouraging colleagues to add one or more two more calls to create stronger ties during this time. There are already numerous stories about people creating online colleague hang out sessions to replace after-work drinks, for example. This will keep your team cohesive even during their time apart.
- Keep communicating with clients – letting local, national and international relationships die will cause businesses who let it happen serious problems, both immediately and when social distancing measures and lockdowns are finally relaxed. The same tools people use for personal communication – apps like Zoom, Skype, Jitsi and other video conferencing software – have a vital role to play here. When it comes to keeping international ties strong, remote interpreting services are also often required.
Finally, many countries are encouraging people who are showing signs of being infected with COVID-19 to stay home rather than immediately visiting their local health centre. This is especially true if their symptoms are mild.
This is a sensible precaution to prevent a deluge of infected patients from overwhelming healthcare facilities. Unfortunately, calling a telephoning helpline – which is recommended in many areas – is not easy if you or the person who is experiencing the symptoms does not speak the same language as the person staffing the line.
Under no circumstances is it a good idea for someone who isn’t a professional interpreter to translate important medical matters. False friends and other translation errors are simply far too easy to fall afoul of.
Using a telephone interpreting service is the preferred solution for many people and organisations. They are also something which many healthcare providers should consider being set up to provide
The positive side of social distancing
It can be tricky to find some positives amid the potentially personally harmful and professionally worrying aspects of both COVID-19 and the social distancing measures which are being put into place to slow its spread.
But maybe you will find the time to reconnect with close family and friends or to start relationships with neighbours – even if it is a bit of a distance.
Perhaps you will finally have the chance to fix your sleeping patterns or start cooking for yourself more often and eating healthier now you have all of that commuting time free to spend as you will.
Social distancing does not mean you can’t go for a walk or a run and get some fresh air and exercise either. All you need to is give people a little space and watch your hygiene.
Do you need to keep your personal or business communication channels open despite social distancing?
Asian Absolute provides telephone, video and remote interpreting services to companies on five continents.
Get in touch with us today and let us know about the language barrier you need to bridge at a distance.