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Social distancing in COVID-19 pandemic
Photograph: Creative Commons/Mitch Moore

Physical distancing: what is it and how do you do it?

Our top tips and tricks on how to master physical distancing without losing your mind

Written by
Divya Venkataraman

The spread of COVID-19 has led us to a challenging, uncertain time. The global pandemic has prompted strict measures and restrictions to everyday life in order to slow its spread. As of March 15, the Australian government has recommended that we practice ‘social distancing’ nationwide, a move which has been highly effective in places like Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong, places which have since seen a slowdown in new cases. We've decided to shift the language and call it 'physical distancing' – because physical separation doesn't mean social isolation. 

As our cities move towards lockdown, it’s only natural to want to reach out and hug friends in these strange times, or distract yourself from the general chaos of the news cycle by going out. But we can't. Suddenly, simple gestures are complex to navigate. So we’ve pulled together a list of tips and tricks to help you physically distance successfully (without absolutely losing it). Here’s the rundown so you don’t get run down.

What is it?

Physical distancing, also known as social distancing, is just creating distance between yourself and other people as a measure to slow the spread of an infectious disease. This is important because COVID-19 spreads through contact with an infected person showing symptoms (or 24 hours before they do), or contact with a surface they have touched or coughed on.

Why should we physically distance?

Minimising contact with others will spread out the time over which the virus moves through the population. That’s not to say it’s a 100 per cent guarantee you won’t get sick. However, our health system will be overwhelmed if everyone gets ill all at once, and physical distancing ensures that our hospitals and staff can better cope and save more lives ('flattening the curve'). 

Sure, but why me?

Even if you’re not worried about the effect the virus will have on you should you contract it, physical distancing is a community-conscious measure. It reduces the risk that you’ll pass it on to the most vulnerable among us – in the case of COVID-19, that's the elderly or anyone who has underlying health or immunity problems.

Is physical distancing the same as self-isolation?

These terms have been thrown around a lot willy-nilly in recent days, so a lot of confusion has arisen. Self-isolation is a lot stricter than physical distancing, but you only need to practice it under certain circumstances, like if you’re unwell or have been overseas recently. Find out the guidance around that here.

For everyone else, we’ve stacked up a list of the ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s of physical distancing to help you get through the coming weeks.


Manage your boredom

Humans are social beings, and one of the biggest challenges reported by those in quarantine has been boredom. Keep your brain occupied by going back to the things you love, but never seem to have time to do. Write that screenplay, get crafty, or bake some goodies to drop off at your friends’ doors. You could use this time to work on a side-gig, but also remember that you don’t need to monetise all your passions. Put some time into a new activity just for the sake of it. Never cooked? Try it out. Always wanted to learn Norsk? Now’s the time. Or, use this time to tackle that growing pile of books on your bedside table. If you’re running low on reading material, order some online from one of our favourite local bookstores. Everyone’s going to come out of this so well-read.

Go to a local grocery store

Support a local grocer or fruit shop near you when you need essentials. Foot traffic is usually much lower than the big chains, and you can support a small business in these uncertain times. Try one of these gourmet delis when you're feeling fancy. 

Travel on PT

It's better to avoid public transport, but some of us will need to use it for essential travel. You can minimise the risk by travelling off-peak, and when it’s possible, by maintaining distance from other people. Make sure to take hand sanitiser with you or wash your hands before and after travel.

Grow a backyard garden

Stop panic-buying food, and grow your own with our guide to building an urban Sydney balcony farm.

Invest time into your side-hustle

Jewellery-making, figurine-painting, writing, baking: if it’s one you can do online or at home, now’s your time to shine.

Go for a walk

Physical distancing requires you to stay away from large groups of people, but if you feel the need to stretch your legs, go for a quiet wander in Sydney’s loveliest green spaces. Just remember, this is best done solo, or with a member in your household – it's not an excuse to have a big group barbecue in the park. 

Go to the (virtual) gym

As of March 23, gyms have been ordered to close all around NSW. But fear not, we've rounded up a list of the best online workouts you can do at home to keep your mind and body in balance. 

Have a Skype dinner party

Arrange a time, dress up cute if you feel like it, and video chat with wine and your various delicious homemade meals. Want more commitment? Order from the same restaurant via a food-delivery service to really keep in theme.

Save for the future

Collect any money you’d ordinarily be spending on gigs and going out, and put it towards a ‘future fund’. When we overcome this crisis, you can use the money you saved from your entertainment budget by supporting small businesses, the arts and the hospitality industry – who will need your support.

Buy a voucher to your local

Or to a restaurant you've been meaning to try. The hospitality industry local staff have already been devastatingly affected by the mandated closures of restaurants and cafes (except for takeaway and delivery), and your support right now means more than ever

Get to grips with your life admin

That picture you haven’t hung up, those taxes you never sorted out, the fridge cleanout that you promised yourself you’d do two months ago? This is the perfect time to get onto it.

Get into nature

If you’re feeling restless, go out and explore the beauty of our natural world. It’s good for perspective and clean air. See our list of the best walks around Sydney. Again, solo is best. 


Worry too much – it’s not forever

It’s hard to say how long we’ll be physically distancing, but this is a crucial time to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Australia. The more effectively we fight this virus together, the quicker we can get back to supporting the local events and businesses we all love.

Wear a mask if you’re not unwell

The government has advised that it’s not necessary to wear a mask if you don’t have symptoms. Buying masks if you’re well takes away necessary supplies from medical workers on the frontline.

Organise or attend large gatherings

Gatherings of more than 500 outside and 100 inside have been outlawed but if you’re wondering whether you should go ahead with something smaller, it might be worth taking some time to think about the responsibility we all have to the wider population and its most vulnerable people. This is a community crisis, and we can only fight it as a community.

Give up on socialising

We’ll all have to come up with creative ways of maintaining our social connections, but technology has made that more possible than ever. FaceTime your friends, check in on family, and make sure that you stay connected to people you love via phone, video-calls, social media, and most importantly, sharing memes.

Over-indulge on news

Stay informed, of course, but obsessing over doom ’n’ gloom headlines is a great way to spiral in the information age. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with the news cycle, switch off, chat to someone about something entirely inconsequential – and maybe watch some cat videos.

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  • Things to do

Following government advice, organisers of many large-scale events in Sydney are currently taking appropriate precautions in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and cancelling events in order to protect the public and those involved. To help keep you up to date, we've collated a list of all the major event cancellations due ot the outbreak of coronavirus in Sydney.

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