While in most human contexts, physical distancing has social ramifications that make it one and the same with social distancing, the Deputy Executive Director of Women Environmental Programme (WEP), Kyauta Agamadalo Iliya Giwa, has challenged the synonymous usage of social distancing and physical distancing. She stated that social distancing is not the same as physical distancing and their usage must not be synonymous.
She explained the definitions, noting, ‘Physical distancing is a set of non-pharmaceutical interventions or measures taken to prevent the spread of a contagious disease by maintaining a physical distance between people and reducing the number of times people come into close contact with each other. It typically involves keeping a certain distance from others (Wikipedia). Social distance, on the other hand, refers to the level of acceptance people have of others outside of their own social group or class. This level of acceptance is defined by their general feelings toward others, and the amount of social interaction they have with people whose characteristics are outside of their social norm. Social distance is a measure of perceived difference (or distance) among groups. As a social construct, social distance is a familiar issue. Many common phrases refer to social distance, such as “out of your league” and “birds of a feather flock together”’.
Giwa added that some social characteristics that lead to social distancing include race, ethnicity, age, gender, and economic class. ’Some people, for example, still exhibit extreme levels of racial social [distancing] by not wanting to live or work with members of other ethnicities. This emerges from feelings and manifests in attitude which is a demonstration of [s]ocial distancing. Clearly, then, the strategy to reduce the spread of [Covid-19] is [physical distancing] and [not] “social distancing”’, she said.
Perhaps, greater clarity might ensue from observing a straightforward, analytical but artificial distinction between physical distancing and social distancing. Nevertheless, all human actions are socially embedded and human meaning-making is rich and non-linear, including modes of speech that rely on metonymy. While it is arguable that all social distancing is not physical distancing, it is clear that all physical distancing in human contexts is social distancing, ie physical distancing is subsumed within social distancing. It will therefore remain correct to use social distancing and physical distancing synonymously in many contexts.
Giwa admonished all to observe physical distancing to stop the spread of Covid-19.