Social distancing is out, physical distancing is in — here’s how to do it

Click to play video: 'What is physical distancing?'
What is physical distancing?
WATCH: What is physical distancing? – Mar 23, 2020

Health experts and politicians have been urging Canadians to keep physical distance from one another and stay home as much as possible to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus — but not everyone is listening.

There were reports from across the country over the weekend of people ignoring social distancing orders by congregating in parks, beaches and other public areas.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that there is no tolerance for those defying social distancing orders and that the government could introduce measures to enforce health warnings.

READ MORE: Trudeau warns Canadians flouting coronavirus social distancing

“You all think you’re invincible. You’re not. Enough is enough,” he warned in an address to Canadians from Rideau Cottage, where he is currently in self-isolation.

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“Go home and stay home.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam echoed those calls during a ministerial press conference shortly after Trudeau spoke to reporters.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario Premier Doug Ford orders all non-essential businesses to close'
Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario Premier Doug Ford orders all non-essential businesses to close

“Canadians must practise social and physical distancing,” urged Freeland.

“That means stay at home unless you are doing essential work like stocking grocery stores, staffing pharmacies and providing medical care.”

What does physical distancing mean?

While many Canadians are familiar with the term “social distancing” by now, “physical distancing” is being used more and more to help people understand what they need to do to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

“We started with the term ‘social distancing’ and I think some people didn’t quite understand what that meant, and they were worried that it might cause social isolation,” said Dr. Jeff Kwong, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto.

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READ MORE: Trudeau says House of Commons to reconvene Tuesday to pass COVID-19 legislation

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“So we felt that maybe we should really be using the term ‘physical distancing,’ because it’s really about being physically apart, and socially we need to stick together — but just in a virtual way.”

Like Freeland said in the press conference, physical distancing means staying inside your home unless you need to leave for work or to pick up groceries. Health officials stress that isolating from other people is a critical means of trying to limit the spread of COVID-19.

On Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses and said the order will be in effect for at least 14 days.

Kwong said that people “should be keeping a pool noodle’s distance apart” from others when in public, and engage in best health practices like handwashing, not touching their faces, and coughing or sneezing into elbows.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau announces Canada to spend $192M on developing COVID-19 vaccine

Even if you are outside on the sidewalk or in the grocery store, Kwong said keeping that two-metre distance is important.

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Dr. Suzanne Sicchia, an associate professor at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society at University of Toronto Scarborough, said sports are also off-limits.

“Team and contact sports, as well as close play with others, and all other forms of physical contact (shaking hands, hugging, letting people pet your dog, etc.) must be avoided entirely,” Sicchia said.

Sicchia said that maintaining social connections is important during this time, and you can still do so virtually. Using programs like Skype, Zoom and FaceTime can help family and friends stay connected and support one another.

Why physical distancing is so important

Kwong said physical distancing is vital in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19. If people continue to defy orders, it will have devastating effects, he said.

READ MORE: Working from home during coronavirus outbreak? Here’s how to keep your relationships intact

“If people don’t do this, we’re going to keep seeing more and more cases, and then our hospitals being filled and people are going to die because there aren’t enough beds or enough ventilators,” he said.

Sicchia said combating the COVID-19 outbreak is something everyone needs to be a part of. Humans are social beings, she said, so it’s important we think of our collective duty to help each other get through this.

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“We want and need to encourage things like social solidarity, social cooperation and social responsibility,” Sicchia said.

“These are central to the actions we have been asked or otherwise required to take to help flatten the curve and protect those at greatest risk of serious complications or death. … Shifting our language from ‘social distancing’ to ‘physical distancing’ is an attempt by some to capture and more clearly communicate all of this.”

— With files from Amanda Connolly and Hannah Jackson

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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