Life Science Staying inside your ‘social bubble’ could be key to keeping COVID-19 at bay

Staying inside your ‘social bubble’ could be key to keeping COVID-19 at bay

two women bump elbows while social distancing
Oxford University scientists argue the one-metre social distancing rule needs to be updated. Photo: Getty
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A new study has compared different methods of social distancing to find the most effective – and the answer might surprise you.

As lockdown restrictions ease, many Australians are slowly venturing out of their homes/caves looking to revive their social lives.

But not everyone is keen to rush out and resume their regularly scheduled activities.

A study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour used ‘social network analysis’ to measure the risk of exposure based on how networks of people interact.

Based on the evidence, the study determined three ways to practice safer social distancing in the post-lockdown age.

‘Similar people’

The first approach researchers from the University of Oxford explored was for people to limit their interaction to those who share common attributes, such as geographic location.

Someone practicing social distancing using the ‘similar people’ approach would limit their interactions to their own neighbourhood, which would significantly slow the rate of transmission.

For example, a community where individuals only interacted with those within a three-block radius would require over 30 transmission events for the virus to travel 100 blocks.

Fortunately for those of us with weird neighbours, this approach is unlikely to stick.


The second approach outlined by the study requires us to consider who our friends interact with.

This method requires individuals to limit their interaction to those with whom you have many friends in common.

Researchers advise sticking with the same social circle. Photo: Getty 

For example, an individual would be able to meet with people in their friendship circle if they all shared similar friends.

The individual would be discouraged from meeting with a friend outside their regular circle, even if just once or twice.

That means you won’t have to feel guilty for turning down drinks with your annoying co-worker.

‘Social Bubbles’

Researchers favoured the ‘social bubble’ approach, claiming it allowed individuals to meet often with the same specific people, thus limiting the spread of the virus.

Professor Linda Bauld, of University of Edinburgh’s public health department said the ‘social bubble’ method was preferred because it allowed people “to have repeated close contact with a small group or ‘micro-community’.”.

“This would be appealing for couples who don’t live together or, as the researchers point out, a group of carers looking after vulnerable adults, or might even allow those in the shielded category to meet up,” Professor Bauld said.

“It was also the most effective strategy included in the research in terms of allowing more contact between individuals while slowing the spread of the virus.”