The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in, among other things, a nationwide lockdown and a strict policy of social distancing.

Health officials have been asking that people keep a two-metre distance between themselves and anyone who is not a member of their own household.

However a fresh report from the Massachusetts Institue of Technology has suggested that this might not be a far enough space to keep yourself and others safe from pathogens expelled by sneezes and coughs…

How far can a sneeze travel?

According to this new research, a sneeze or cough from an infected person in a moist, warm environment can spread microscopic virus droplets as far as eight metres.

As if that wasn’t disconcerting enough, those droplets can be held in the air for several hours.

Read the latest updates:Coronavirus news live

However Dr. Lydia Bourouiba, an associate professor at MIT, wrote in a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on 26 March that a sneeze could potentially propel germs as far as 27 feet.

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She wrote: ‘Recent work has demonstrated that exhalations, sneezes, and coughs not only consist of mucosalivary droplets following short-range semiballistic emission trajectories but, importantly, are primarily made of a multiphase turbulent gas (a puff) cloud that entrains ambient air and traps and carries within it clusters of droplets with a continuum of droplet sizes.’

She added that the distance a ‘puff’ could travel would depend on the individual their surrounding environment, writing: ‘Owing to the forward momentum of the cloud, pathogen-bearing droplets are propelled much farther than if they were emitted in isolation without a turbulent puff cloud trapping and carrying them forward.

‘Given various combinations of an individual patient’s physiology and environmental conditions, such as humidity and temperature, the gas cloud and its payload of pathogen-bearing droplets of all sizes can travel 23 to 27 feet (7-8 m).’

At a White House Press briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, put it simply when he said it would require a ‘very, very robust, vigorous, achoo sneeze’ for pathogens to travel such a distance.

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