diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 23, 2020

It's an important day for the country as the Prime Minister announces a heavily-leaked easing of lockdown.
It's a difficult decision, and a divisive one.
So are you a Locker or an Unlocker?


Unlock too fast and more people die.
Unlock too slowly and the economy tanks.

Getting the balance right is hard.
But many people are still convinced one way is better than the other.

Lockers are convinced we're going too fast. "It's much too early to be reopening pubs." "Some of us are still shielding, you know." "Nobody needs to go to a restaurant." "It'll kickstart a second wave." "Ohmigod you'll kill us all."

Unlockers are convinced we're not going fast enough. "We need to reopen society." "There's far less risk now." "Some of us need to make a living." "The hospitality sector must recover." "We can't stay wrapped in cotton wool forever."

If only the number of cases in the community were lower, and the risk of bumping into somebody infectious minimal, the decision would be much easier. Unfortunately, because Britain hasn't quite kept a lid on things, that's not where we are right now.

One of the key battlegrounds, due to be resolved today, is the 2m rule for social distancing. This first surfaced in pre-lockdown guidance on 16th March and has since come to define much of how society works. Lockers see it as a safeguard. Unlockers see it as a restriction.

2m is at the top end of global distancing measures. The USA went with six foot, Germany and Spain with 1.5m and South Korea 1.4m. China and Singapore decided on 1m, in line with the World Health Organisation's minimum. Closer separation works better in countries where governments are authoritarian enough to ensure the population complies.

Two metres has the advantage that it's easier to picture than something fractional, hence more likely to be widely adopted. It's also far enough apart that, even if people don't quite stick to it, they're still keeping well beyond one metre. But this hasn't prevented the UK from having one of the worst rates of infection of any Western nation, because there's more to transmission than proximity.

   Which is more dangerous?   
a) 2m apart indoorsb) 2m apart outdoors

Answer a): Outdoors is considerably safer than indoors, thanks to air circulation, which is why the government still hasn't allowed you to meet people at home.

   Which is more dangerous?   
a) 2m apart for 1 secondb) 2m apart for 1 hour

Answer b): Walking past someone is the street is hugely less likely to transmit the virus than sitting at opposite ends of a bench for a chat, yet still we dodge people in the street.

   Which is more dangerous?   
a) 2m apart talkingb) 2m apart in silence

Answer a): Exhaling air is more likely to pass on the virus than keeping your mouth closed... but what's the point of meeting up and saying nothing?

   Which is more dangerous?   
a) 2m apart without a face coveringb) 1m apart with a face covering

Answer ?): Now there's a question. Once you change two variables it starts to get complicated, and yet this is the question the Prime Minister intends to tackle today.

There's been a great deal of pressure to reduce the social distancing limit from two metres to one, mostly from businesses who expect to go bust if they're not allowed to nudge customers closer together. But halving the distance is still quite a leap... indeed I wonder if you've thought about it in two dimensions before.

Dropping from 2m to 1m allows you to cram up to 4 times as many people into your space, there being three extra yellow blobs for every red. Of course no pub garden, restaurant terrace or auditorium looks quite like this, so the actual gain wouldn't be quite so high, but you can see why businesses are so anxious to drag the limit down.

But as a customer you may not be quite so keen. In the first diagram the closest other punters are two metres away. In the second diagram there are four other people within one metre and eight other people within a metre and a half. Moving from 2m to 1m delivers a considerable increase in risk.

One day the number of cases in the community will be so low that none of these mitigations will be necessary. Until we get that far, alas, picking the right rules for social distancing remains critical.

So I wondered whether you were a Locker, an Unlocker or somewhere inbetween.
(pick one of the five special comments boxes...)

LOCK back upleave things aloneease up
a little
ease up some moreUNLOCK
comments comments comments comments comments

Just remember your opinions are ultimately pointless, and the politicians have already plumped for box number four.

Might see you outside the pub next month. Or might not.

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