< Distance

What is the recommended distance between two people?

Text updated on 2021-05-15

The recommended physical distance in France is at least 1 meter, to be adapted according to the breathing intensity of the speaker.

In order to prevent a person carrying the virus from infecting another person, it is important to maintain a certain distance. At the beginning of the epidemic, it was thought that the transmission of the coronavirus was done by sputters, which are droplets emitted when breathing, speaking, singing, etc. Sputters larger than 5 µm in diameter fall rapidly, at a distance of 1 to 2 metres, around the person who produced them. The recommended distance between two people has been established taking this into account.

The recommended distance varies from country to country:

Canada, Government of Canada: 2 m

Japan, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: 2 m

United States, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention: 1.8 m (6 feet)

Australia, Australian Government of Health: 1.5 m

Germany, Die Bundesregierung: 1,5 m

Netherlands, Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu: 1,5 m

Belgium, National Security Council: 1.5 m

France, French Government: 1 m

Italy, Italian Government: 1 m

Singapore, Ministry of Health: 1 m

(last accessed 25 April 2020)

Knowledge of transmission routes has evolved since the beginning of the pandemic. We now know that the coronavirus is also transmitted by aerosols. These are micro-droplets, less than 5 µm in diameter, which can remain suspended in the air for several hours and be found several metres (6-8 metres) from the person who produced them.

The distance of 1 or 2 meters protects from sprays but not from aerosols.

To avoid contamination, the distance to be respected depends on the conditions. If there is a wind outside or a draught in a room, the airborne viral particles do not stagnate and are diluted in the ambient air: the risk of contamination is therefore lower than in a confined room or in a taxi.

In all cases, avoid staying in the direct airflow of another person. If you can smell the other person's breath, you are inhaling what they are exhaling including their viral particles, so move away.

When a person speaks loudly, sings, runs, bikes or is out of breath, they expel droplets and particles with more force so it is best to increase the distances.

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Fine droplets carrying pathogens emitted by a sneeze can travel up to 8 meters in a few seconds/minute through a room.

BOUROUIBA, Lydia. A sneeze. New England Journal of Medicine, 2016, vol. 375, no. 8, p. e15.

In an air-conditioned restaurant on the 5th floor, a pre-symptomatic COVID-19 person contaminated at least two other people more than 2 meters away who were eating at nearby tables.

Lu, J., Gu, J., Li, K., Xu, C., Su, W., Lai, Z., ... & Yang, Z. (2020). COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(7).

Using a laser beam, researchers have observed that saying the words "Stay Healthy" generates thousands of droplets of saliva that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. A homemade wet cloth mask significantly reduces droplet excretion.

Anfinrud, P., Bax, C. E., Stadnytskyi, V., & Bax, A. (2020). Could SARS-CoV-2 be transmitted via speech droplets?. medRxiv.

A study in a Chinese hospital revealed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus disperses within a 4-meter radius around COVID-19 patients.

Guo, Z. D., Wang, Z. Y., Zhang, S. F., Li, X., Li, L., Li, C., ... & Zhang, M. Y. (2020). Aerosol and surface distribution of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 in hospital wards, Wuhan, China, 2020. Emerging infectious diseases, 26(7).

A detailed study of contact tracing among train passengers, including 2,334 index cases (patients infected with the coronavirus and causing the contamination of other individuals) and 72,093 close contacts (up to 3 rows away from the index case) who travelled between December 19, 2019 and March 6, 2020 in China, revealed that 234 passengers out of the 72,093 examined were contaminated on the train. The rate of contamination of passengers by index cases is closely related to both the distance between seats and the duration of the journey. Those who were in the same row as the contagious individual were 10 times more likely to get COVID-19 than those placed one or two rows down.

Hu, Maogui, et al. "The risk of COVID-19 transmission in train passengers: an epidemiological and modelling study." Clinical Infectious Diseases (2020).

An article showing that viral particles of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus agent from COVID-19 present in aerosols are infectious on cells. These particles are infectious up to 16 hours after aerosolization.

Fears, A. C., Klimstra, W. B., Duprex, P., Hartman, A., Weaver, S. C., Plante, K. S., ... & Nalca, A. (2020). Persistence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 in Aerosol Suspensions. Emerging infectious diseases, 26(9).

Several people were infected after a 1 hour and 40 minute bus ride when the contagious individual with COVID-19 was more than 6 meters away.

the contagious individual with COVID-19 was more than 6 metres away. Shen, Y., Li, C., Dong, H., Wang, Z., Martinez, L., Sun, Z., ... & Xu, G. (2020). Airborne transmission of COVID-19: epidemiologic evidence from two outbreak investigations.

Further reading

What is the purpose of social distancing?

Why put on a mask?