Social distancing could qualify as an oxymoron in Italy, where walking arm-in-arm with friends, kissing neighbors in greeting and patting the heads of babies are part of the demonstrative culture.
But the coronavirus outbreak has rapidly redefined the concept of respecting personal space for tactile Italians, as well as for South Koreans, Filipinos, Americans, Spaniards and citizens of many other crowded parts of the world.
Whether acting under government orders or following basic public health advice, people are putting distance between themselves to keep Covid-19 away.
The new rules of engagement call for maintaining a gap of one to two metres (or three to six feet) to prevent possible exposure when an infected individual coughs or speaks.
The illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most of those infected, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or people with existing health problems. The vast majority of those infected recover.
The coronavirus pandemic has rapidly redefined the concept of respecting personal space – with more and more people getting used to the idea of ‘social distancing’. Above, customers line up to enter a shop in Barcelona on Tuesday
Pastors wearing face masks attend a service at the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, last Sunday. Whether acting under government orders or following basic public health advice, people are putting distance between themselves to keep Covid-19 away
People keep their distance as they queue in front of a post office in Debrecen, Hungary, on Monday. The new rules of engagement call for maintaining a gap of one to two metres (or three to six feet) to prevent possible exposure when an infected individual coughs or speaks
People wait in a line to enter a gun store in Culver City, California, on March 15. The California Department of Public Health said on Wednesday that the state now has 13 deaths related to the coronavirus and 598 confirmed cases. More than 11,900 people are self-monitoring after returning from overseas
Residents outside a supermarket yesterday in Manila, Philippines, while the government implements a localized quarantine as a precautionary measure against the spread of the new coronavirus
A line of people waiting to buy supplies amid coronavirus fears snakes through a parking lot at a Costco in Las Vegas on March 14. Gambling has ground to a halt in the casino mecca after Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak shut down all non-essential businesses
Residents step on measured tape placed outside a supermarket to practise social distancing in Metro Manila, Philippines, on Tuesday. The nation’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, has declared a unilateral ceasefire with communist guerrillas to focus on fighting the outbreak which has prompted him to place the northern third of the country under quarantine
The reset norm for an acceptable degree of separation became visible evidence of the pandemic’s reach as schools, shopping malls and sports venues closed and opportunities for public encounters dwindled.
Outside a gun shop in California, a post office in Hungary and a supermarket in Manila, lines lengthened as customers queued up at more or less proper intervals.
Practising social distancing at first created confusion among shoppers waiting at a supermarket in Madrid. Some harsh exchanges ensued. But customers soon learned that if they wanted their groceries, they needed to fall into line.
Cases of the highly contagious virus now exceed 203,000, according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University
People queue outside a bakery in the rain, in Pamplona, northern Spain, on Monday. Spain has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world behind China, Italy and Iran
People wear masks as they wait to enter a pharmacy in Rome on March 16. Italy has over 35,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 3,000 deaths
Customers outside a retail store in New York on Monday. Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered the city-wide shuttering of bars, cafes, restaurants, museums, theatres and libraries while public schools have also been closed
People line up outside a supermarket in Brussels on Wednesday. Belgium has ordered further lockdown measures starting Wednesday, following in the steps of European neighbours Italy, Spain and France. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia
German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a coronavirus press statement – where the limited number of journalists allowed in were placed at a distance to each other – at the Chancellery, in Berlin on Monday
Customers outside a retail store on March 16 in New York. The US federal government on Monday urged Americans not to gather in groups of ten or more and asked older people to stay at home
The safe space standards also reveal how closely humans positioned themselves before. Pastors at a church in Seoul had room to spread out in empty pews after deciding to conduct Sunday services online. Journalists at a news conference in Berlin sat in chairs spaced away from one another.
A nationwide decree that took effect in Italy last week obliges people to stay at least one metre (about three feet) apart. Overnight, habits of a lifetime and of an entire society were turned upside down.
In a country where waiting your turn often equates to elbowing your way to the front of an undisciplined pack, Italians dutifully lined up with breaks in between – one metre, two metres, sometimes standing across the street from each other to keep stores uncrowded and themselves from getting coronavirus.
Shopkeepers whipped out measuring tapes. ‘I have seen a lot of discipline, solidarity and collaboration, and everybody understands that the first that falls will pull the others with him,’ said Piero Emilio Vincenzi, owner of an appliance store near the Vatican.
Shoppers queue outside a supermarket in Paris on Tuesday. France has more than 9,100 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 264 deaths. The country has imposed sweeping lockdown measures, confining millions to their homes for much of the day
Enza Garzia (left), 79, talks at a distance with Paola Albano, in central Rome on March 11. Immediately after the virus emerged in northern Italy on February 21, care homes cut off access to visitors to limit the contagion risk to elderly patients most vulnerable to the disease
People wait in line to vote for local elections on March 15 in Paris. President Emmanuel Macron said the second round of local elections due to be held on March 22 would be postponed and hotels and other private businesses will meanwhile be requisitioned by the state in order to help treat sufferers of the lethal virus
The scene outside a shop in Barcelona on Tuesday. The reset norm for an acceptable degree of separation became visible evidence of the pandemic’s reach as schools, shopping malls and sports venues closed and opportunities for public encounters dwindled
A supermarket cashier waits for customers behind a makeshift plastic curtain as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Monday