How does social distancing work?
To stem the speed of the coronavirus spread so that healthcare systems can handle the influx, experts are advising people to avoid mass gatherings.
Offices, schools, concerts, conferences, sports events, weddings, and the like have been shut or cancelled around the world, including in a number of Indian states.
An advisory by the US Centers for Disease Control recommends social distancing measures such as: reducing the frequency of large gatherings and limiting the number of attendees; limiting inter-school interactions; and considering distance or e-learning in some settings.
What is the objective of such restrictions?
Compared to deadlier diseases such as bird flu, or H5N1, coronavirus is not as fatal —which ironically also makes it more difficult to contain.
With milder symptoms, the infected are more likely to be active and still spreading the virus.
For example, more than half the cases aboard a cruise ship that has docked in California did not exhibit any symptoms.
In a briefing on March 11, WHO officials said, “Action must be taken to prevent transmission at the community level to reduce the epidemic to manageable clusters.”
The main question for governments is to reduce the impact of the virus by flattening the trajectory of cases from a sharp bell curve to an elongated speed-bump-like curve.
This is being called “flattening the curve”. How does ‘flattening the curve’ help?
Limiting community transmission is the best way to flatten the curve.
What was the curve like in China?
The numbers show that the virus spread within Hubei exponentially but plateaued in other provinces.
Some say it’s because many of these countries learnt from the 2003 SARS epidemic.
Just as Chinese provinces outside of Hubei effectively stemmed the spread in February, three other countries —South Korea, Italy, and Iran — were not able to flatten the curve.