Coronavirus: Scientists ‘very suspicious’ of WHO social distancing research

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Scientists have criticized research commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) that suggested that there would only be a minimal increase in the risk of coronavirus spreading from relaxing the commonly used two-meter social distancing rule.

The WHO recently released a report that said relaxing the distance needed for social distancing from two meters to one meter would result in only a marginal increase in infection risk, from 1.3 to 2.6 percent, according to British newspaper the Guardian.


This research has, however, been called into question, with senior scientists raising question marks about how the study was conducted and noting that the research in itself should not be used by authorities to decide to reduce social distancing guidelines.

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“The analysis of infection risk at one meter versus two meter should be treated with great caution,” Professor David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University statistician involved in the UK’s coronavirus response, told the Guardian.

“I’m very suspicious of it,” he added.

The WHO’s study used previous research to estimate how likely people were to be infected at different distances, and the effect of face masks and eye protection on infection rates.

However, the study’s authors decided to assume that the difference of moving between one meter and two meters away from an infected person would be proportionally the same as moving from one meter to zero, ignoring other potential factors, the Guardian reported.

“The method of comparing the different distances in the paper is inappropriate for telling you exactly how the risk at two-meter minimum distance compares to a one-meter minimum distance. It does not support, and should not be used in, arguments about how much greater the risk is with a one-meter limit versus a two-meter limit,” Professor Kevin McConway, an applied statistician at the UK’s Open University, told the Guardian.

Scientists concerned over coronavirus papers

Scientists and researchers have begun to raise alarm bells about the rapid rate at which scientific papers that are being published about the coronavirus pandemic. The number of studies being published on the same topic, the coronavirus, at the same time, is likely unprecedented, with the rise of the internet giving further fuel to the torrent of information being released, but there are several problems with this system.

While some websites have been publishing non-peer reviewed papers, a process that aims to confirm the methodology and veracity of a piece of research, even peer-reviewed journals have come under fire.

The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, both respected peer-reviewed journals, have already had to retract various studies into the coronavirus as flaws in the research were uncovered.

Earlier this month, three of the authors of an article published in The Lancet on the dangers associated with coronavirus drug hydroxychloroquine retracted the study, as the quality of the data used in the study sparked criticism.

“[We] can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources,” the study’s authors wrote at the time.

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