‘Social Bubbles’ Can Limit Coronavirus Spread, Oxford Study Says


(Bloomberg) --

The best way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus post-lockdown is for people to limit their interactions to a few repeated contacts, or so-called social bubbles, research from the University of Oxford showed.

Strategically reducing contacts can lower infection rates and flatten the curve considerably more than simple social distancing can, according to the study published in the journal Nature Human Behavior. Temporarily restricting contact to those who share similar features, such as people living in the same neighborhood, and limiting interaction with occasional acquaintances were also found to be more effective than more random distancing measures.

“Strategic reduction of contact can strongly increase the efficiency of social distancing measures, introducing the possibility of allowing some social contact while keeping risks low,” Per Block, a research lecturer at Oxford’s Department of Sociology and the lead author of the article, said in a statement. “This approach provides nuanced insights to policymakers for effective social distancing, which can mitigate negative consequences of social isolation.”

So-called strategic distancing can reduce the psychological and economic harm of prolonged lockdowns, while still helping to limit the spread of the disease, the authors wrote. People are more likely to adhere to these restrictions because they will be more palatable than complete isolation.

“The emphasis on similar, community-based and repetitive contacts is both easy to understand and implement, thus making distancing measures more palatable over longer periods of time,” the authors wrote.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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