Call it ‘physical distancing,’ not ‘social distancing,’ says WHO

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Call it ‘physical distancing,’ not ‘social distancing,’ says WHO

There's still a need to remain connected with each other in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization says

MANILA, Philippines – Far apart physically, but not socially.

This is how the World Health Organization (WHO) explained its move to now use the phrase “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” to describe one of the ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a press briefing on Friday, March 20, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said it is important to keep physical distance from people to prevent the transfer of the virus. “But it doesn’t mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family.”

Van Kerkhove is the head of the WHO’s emerging diseases unit, and the technical lead in efforts to combat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

She highlighted technology’s help in connecting remotely with each other. “We’re changing to say physical distance and that’s on purpose because we want people to still remain connected.”

“So find ways to do that, find ways through the internet and through different social media to remain connected because your mental health going through this is just as important as your physical health,” she added. 

The WHO has used the phrase “physical distancing” as early as March 18, during a press briefing. In his opening remarks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “physical distancing measures like canceling sporting events, concerts, and other large gatherings can help to slow transmission of the virus.” 

“They can reduce the burden on the health system and they can help to make epidemics manageable, allowing targeted and focused measures,” Tedros added.

In the Philippines, some government agencies have started using the phrase “physical distancing” like the Philippine Economic Zone Authority in its guidelines for ecozone workers issued on Friday. Meanwhile, others have yet to use it, like the Department of Health in one of its public advisory graphics posted on its Facebook page on Sunday.

Worldwide, the coronavirus has affected at least 169 countries, with over 300,000 cases and more than 12,000 deaths as of Sunday afternoon, March 22. – Michael Bueza/

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