Physical Distancing and Emotional Closeness Amidst COVID-19

A guest editorial just released in our journal Crisis by Paul S.F. Yip and Pui Hing Chau draws on experience in Hong Kong during and after the 2003 SARS epidemic – what was learned then and how those lessons should be applied in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing that is emerging is a preference for the term “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing” – the significant harm that social isolation causes is something we all need to help avoid.

As Paul S.F. Yip and Pui Hing Chau write:
“In 2003, during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, we found that suicides in Hong Kong hit a record high of 18.6 per 100,000, or 1,264 people for the year. There was a 32% increase in the number of suicides by older people compared to the previous year. The whole community’s mental wellness was at heightened risk in the SARS epidemic, and the same is true in the current climate of COVID-19.
“What we have learned from the SARS epidemic should allow us to better prepare for COVID-19. We need to be sensitive to those who are in quarantine or otherwise isolated and provide alternative means for them to connect with others in the midst of the pandemic …

They conclude with thanks and an appeal:
“We salute all the medical and healthcare workers who are currently risking their lives to help the sick. In such times, we all need to work together to pull through. Unfortunately, we have not seen the end of the tunnel and the coronavirus will remain active in our communities for a while. The global community needs to ensure that we are well prepared for what lies ahead. That means staying healthy and getting lots of rest while looking out for each other. The measures may be inconvenient but safety is of utmost concern, as is emotional well-being. We all can do our bit to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.”

Read more in the full editorial here