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Covid, Personality, Social and behavioural

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

This guidance offers recommendations for interventions that can be used to encourage and enable physical distancing

30 July 2021

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.

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 infection2, particularly with physical distancing of 1 metre or more3. Many governments and health agencies have recommended people adhere to a physical distance of between 1 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 2 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 others7. This included six papers, reporting 14 inteventions 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.

S - Supply feedback

P - Provide information about consequences

A - Address norms and social responsibility 

C - Credible sources

E - Enabled environment

D - Demonstration of behaviour

Download the guideline