Physical distancing aims to reduce physical contact between potentially infected people and healthy people, or between population groups with high rates of transmission and others with low or no level of transmission. The objective of this is to decrease or interrupt the spread of COVID-19. Minimizing contact with each other means also the virus will spread more slowly.  Consequently, few people become infected and healthcare institutions don’t become overwhelmed.

Note that the term ‘physical distancing’ means the same thing as the widely used term ‘social distancing’, but it more accurately describes what is intended, namely that people keep physically apart. Physical distancing measures might be implemented over an extended period and their success depends on ensuring that people maintain social contact – from a distance – with friends, family and colleagues. Internet-based communications and the phone are therefore key tools for ensuring a successful physical distancing strategy.

On a personal level, you can perform physical distancing measures by:

  • Voluntarily self-isolating if you know you have the virus that causes COVID-19, or if you have suggestive respiratory symptoms, or if you belong to a high-risk group (i.e. you are aged 70 years or more, or you have an underlying health condition).

Many countries in the EU/EEA and the UK have installed quarantine and social/physical distancing as measures to prevent the further spread of the virus.

These measures can include:

  • The full or partial closure of educational institutions and workplaces;
  • Limiting the number of visitors and limiting the contact between the residents of confined settings, such as long-term care facilities and prisons;
  • Cancellation, prohibition and restriction of mass gatherings and smaller meetings;
  • Mandatory quarantine of buildings or residential areas;
  • Internal or external border closures;
  • Stay-at-home restrictions for entire regions or countries.
Source: ECDC & RIVM