Social bubbles can delay spread of Covid-19 and be effective during post-lockdown era, says study

Social bubbles aka pods or Quaran-teams allow people to bond in groups but reduce contact outside it


                            Social bubbles can delay spread of Covid-19 and be effective during post-lockdown era, says study
(Getty Images)

The post-lockdown era has ushered in a new concept: social bubbles — also dubbed as pods or Quaran-teams. It allows people to bond in groups but reduces contacts outside it. And according to a new study, this control measure may help slow the spread of Covid-19.   

"In the absence of a vaccine against Covid-19, governments and organizations face economic and social pressures to gradually and safely open up societies, yet they lack scientific evidence on how to do this," the researchers wrote in their study. Lockdowns and other similar measures help control Covid-19, but they come with additional baggage, including social, psychological and economic consequences, say researchers from the UK and Switzerland in their study.

So the team began hunting for middle-ground approaches that not only slow the virus but also factors in the baggage. Their analysis showed that social bubbles hold promise. "We demonstrate that the 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," Dr Per Block, a research lecturer at Oxford's Department of Sociology and the lead author of the article, says in a statement. "This approach provides nuanced insights to policymakers for effective social distancing which can mitigate negative consequences of social isolation."

In fact, two US counties — San Francisco and Alameda — have instructed its residents to form social bubbles. Each group will contain people from different households as long as they do not exceed 12 individuals.  Authorities add that meetings should be held outdoors as the risk of catching and spreading the disease is lower in ventilated and open spaces.

Middle-ground approaches that not only slow the virus but also factors in the health and economic consequences (Getty Images)

In their study,  Dr Block and his team tested three different strategies and modeled their outcomes. The first looked at contacts between people who have something in common, for instance, bonding between individuals of the same age or those residing in the same location. The second involved people with shared contact, for example, allowing two friends to meet if they have many other friends in common. The third included social bubbles, where members of a group repeatedly socialized with one another.

Their analysis showed that all three strategies fared better than no intervention or even simple social distancing in slowing down the virus.  However, social bubbles outperformed all others. The study predicted that the approach could delay the peak of infections by 37%, resulting in 30% fewer infected individuals. Scientists think social bubbles can work among work colleagues. Employers could create work unit bubbles of colleagues. The new coronavirus may find it hard to infiltrate micro-communities. If a member contracts the infection,  the virus may still find it challenging to spread much further,  according to the study.  

 They add that even combining the three strategies is realistic. "Instead of blanket self-isolation policies, the emphasis on similar, community-based and repetitive contacts are both easy to understand and implemented, thus making distancing measures more palatable over longer periods," says the study. The study is published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

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