What is the evidence for social distancing during global pandemics?
Mahtani, Kamal R.
Aronson, Jeffrey K.
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Background: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government has now moved from its contain phase to a delay phase. Social distancing measures are being mandated, including self-isolation for anyone with specific symptoms. More social distancing measures are likely to be introduced, including self-isolation of the over 70s and higher risk groups, irrespective of symptoms and possibly for several months, to reduce their risk of virus exposure. The strategy has not had universal support. Last week, in an open letter to the Government, 501 UK based academic signatories and 40 distinguished international signatories wrote that “We consider the social distancing measures taken as of today as insufficient, and we believe that additional and more restrictive measures should be taken immediately, as it is already happening in other countries across the world.” Those other countries include Italy, Spain, France, and Germany, where far wider restrictions are being implemented, including the closure of schools and public spaces such as cafes, restaurants, cinemas, and most shops, and in some cases restrictions on when people can leave their homes. It is uncertain whether these measures are sufficient, or too limited, as there is currently little evidence on how to manage COVID-19. We have therefore assessed evidence from other scenarios, such as influenza pandemics, to inform potential social distancing strategies.