Why people are saying “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing”

Over two million Instagram posts are tagged #socialdistancing, featuring everything from empty supermarkets to selfies bearing little relation to the pandemic.

Yet in an effort to honour the need for emotional connection, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is now promoting the phrase “physical distancing” instead.

Physical distancing, social distancing

After a press conference on Friday, the World Health Organisation is pushing for the phrase “physical distancing” in place of “social distancing.”

During the briefing on March 20th, the global organisation highlighted the importance of keeping in touch with friends and family.

“We’re changing to say physical distance and that’s on purpose because we want people to still remain connected,” Dr Maria Kerkhove said in the press briefing.

“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.”

The recommended distance differs in each country, but the WHO suggests keeping at least one metre away from others. Extra care should be taken with anyone displaying flu-like symptoms.

“It doesn’t mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family,” Dr Kerkhove said. With technology ingrained in our daily lives, it’s easier than ever to maintain our relationships even when physically apart.

Similarly, Jamil Zaki, Associate Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, encourages “distant socializing” as an alternative. He acknowledges that “social distancing” was the wrong term to begin with and supports the shift towards connectedness during self-isolation.

Check in on your friends, stream your favourite artists, listen to some books, buy a record, get creative, and stay inside. Just make sure you refer to it as “physical distancing”.