A recent study claims that a two-metre gap does not guarantee one’s safetyNick Fewings/unsplash

Is social distancing pointless?

For almost two years, the government has been encouraging people to maintain a two-metre gap when socialising with fellow human beings. Thousands upon thousands of flyers, adverts and witty birthday cards have drilled this message into the general population, in a national effort to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

However, has it all been worth it? Are we really safe when we social distance? Cambridge engineers suggest not.

New research from the University of Cambridge has found that the golden two-metre rule may not be as reliable as previously thought, dubbing it an “arbitrary measurement”.

Professor Epaminondas Mastorakos from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering led the research, which focussed on quantifying the way in which cough droplets spread COVID-19.

The research found that the amount of droplets expelled by a cough is quite random and varies significantly between individuals. Mastorakos explained: “If I’m coughing, fluctuations in velocity, temperature and humidity mean that the amount someone gets at the two-metre mark can be very different each time.”

The study claims that a two-metre gap does not guarantee one’s safety, and stressed that vaccination, ventilation and mask-wearing are key in containing the virus.

“We’re all desperate to see the back of this pandemic, but we strongly recommend that people keep wearing masks in indoor spaces such as offices, classrooms and shops,” added Mastorakos.

Multilingual = academic genius

The ability to speak multiple languages is an enviable trait at the best of times. It helps you to travel the world, experience new cultures, and may even land you a job in MI5.

Much to the despair of jealous monolinguals such as myself, recent research has found yet another reason why being multilingual is great: GCSE scores.

The study looked at over 800 pupils in the UK and found a positive correlation between multilingual students and their GCSE scores.

Individuals who identified as multilingual outperformed their peers in a number of subjects including maths, geography and science.

Interestingly, pupils who identified in this way did not necessarily speak two languages fluently — therefore, simply valuing a language and different styles of communication may help to boost grades across the board.

Dr Dee Rutgers, a Research Associate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, commented: “The evidence suggests that the more multilingual you consider yourself to be, the higher your GCSE scores. While we need to understand more about why that relationship exists, it may be that children who see themselves as multilingual have a sort of ‘growth mindset’ which impacts on wider attainment.”

Devastating plagues

Meanwhile, in the land of historical academia, Professor Peter Sarris has argued that the Justinianic Plague had a far more devastating impact on society than other historians would have you believe. The Justinianic Plague hit the Mediterranian world from the 6th to the 8th century, and was the first outbreak of the bubonic plague in west Eurasian history.

Sarris argued that, in light of recent genetic findings, ancient texts need to be interpreted differently. Some historians argue that there is a lack of literature surrounding the plague during Emperor Justinian’s reign, and therefore its impact on society must have been mild.


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In an argument reminiscent of the quality-not-quantity maxim, Sarris asserted that whilst there are limited writings, the ones that do exist are of great significance. In particular, he noted the significance of Procopius, a contemporary historian, who wrote a “harrowing account of the arrival of the plague in Constantinople.”

Sarris also noted a surge in legislation between 542 and 545 CE, which enacted a number of crisis-driven measures to limit the damage caused by the plague. He highlighted a law made in March 542 CE, that Emperor Justinian himself described as being written amid the “encircling presence of death”.

The exact nature of the Justinianic Plague was not known until the early 2000s, when advances in genomics enabled scientists to identify it as bubonic.

Sarris commented: “Increasing genetic evidence will lead us in directions we can scarcely yet anticipate, and historians need to be able to respond positively and imaginatively, rather than with a defensive shrug.”

Addenbrooke’s Hospital conquers COVID-19

Scientists and engineers at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the University of Cambridge have installed an air filtration device in COVID-19 wards, which has removed virtually all traces of the virus from the air.

The findings have huge implications for improving the safety of hospital wards, as well as having wider implications for setting standards on clean air.

The study measured the amount of the SARS-CoV-2 in the air before and after a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) air filter was installed and found that the device led to a significant reduction in its presence.

Study lead Dr Vilas Navapurkar, a consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH), said: “Reducing airborne transmission of the coronavirus is extremely important for the safety of both patients and staff. Effective PPE has made a huge difference, but anything we can do to reduce the risk further is important.”

“Because of the numbers of patients being admitted with COVID-19, hospitals have had to use wards not designed for managing respiratory infections. During an intensely busy time, we were able to pull together a team from across the hospital and University to test whether portable air filtration devices, which are relatively inexpensive, might remove airborne SARS-CoV-2 and make these wards safer.”