THE vivaciously rapid rise of COVID-19 all across the globe is worrying.

One way to tackle the pandemic is by the implementation of the jarring sounding, ‘social distancing.’

In a recent announcement, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

People being forced to succumb to the coronavirus anxiety are evident, through impulse purchases of toilet papers and face masks at supermarkets and events being cancelled or halted until further notice.

Vacation plans are postponed, accommodation and air tickets are being refunded, leaving a huge scar to the ever-lucrative global tourism industry..

According to Dr Khor Swee Kheng, a senior fellow of Health Systems and Health Policies, social distancing is a preventative measure to ensure public health and safety in times where infectious viruses are ongoing and it also allows healthcare authorities to cope with the situation in treating infected patients.

“If Malaysia ultimately receives 10,000 people infected by COVID-19, we want them to spread out over the span of six months rather than over the span of six weeks.

“Hospitals can cope with the workload given the time period, if there are 10,000 patients over six weeks then the doctors and nurses won’t be able to cope,” he said.

Although individuals who are tested positive of the virus are required to be quarantined in a health facility for recovery purposes since the start of the outbreak, it is always best to take precautionary measures.

For the time being, many countries have not yet enforced social distancing to the healthy majority, however it has been strongly encouraged by health officials.

“If we deploy social distancing in Malaysia after we have a dramatic escalation of cases, it will be too late. It is like closing the barn door after the horse has run away.” he said.

Why is social distancing important?

Following the cancellation of large events, studies have shown how social distancing helps in ‘flattening the curve’ of the virus spread.

“This is so we don’t stress the system.” he said.

In fact recently, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has advised for postponement of events to avoid large crowds and to start working from home in an effort to minimise the risk of infection.

“Employers should consider allowing employees to work from home, reduce travels, allowing them to work in staggered shifts.”

China, for instance, has stepped up its approach in overcoming this outbreak that primarily includes strict social distancing. The city of Wuhan with a population of 11 million people is in constant and extensive monitoring.

Malaysians are also strongly advised against travelling to countries that have been declared as COVID-19 outbreak areas. The countries include China, Italy, South Korea, Japan and Iran.

The WHO has been urging people to exercise social distancing since the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak. As opposed to self-quarantine, social distancing does not limit movements in specific locations.

But only recently people are starting to see the result of the measure as it is about limiting movements and physical interactions among the people.

In fact, many believe that social distancing would be one of the most important ways to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Malaysia does not have to emulate China, but there is a spectrum of social distancing we can follow. Going a little higher than what we are doing right now, but not to the heights of China’s social distancing.”

To date, there has been a record of a staggering 134,702 infected globally and 4,973 deaths.

In Malaysia, 158 individuals have been infected, 26 have recovered.

Dr Khor also believed in the ability and wisdom of fellow Malaysians in their judgements - in terms of participating in day-to-day or outdoor social activities.

“We ask everybody to exercise their own good judgement to increase their social distance, and to reduce human activities and shift most things online and digitally and virtually where possible.

This requires an individual judgement of Malaysians that I think are wise and able to make these decisions," he concluded.