Social distancing symbols

22 July 2020

Would you wear a 'distance aware' symbol?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people should keep at least one metre away from each other to protect against Covid-19. This advice applies to everyone, though some people seem to be increasingly less inclined to comply as restrictions are eased and they begin to enjoy their greater freedom. For people who have been shielding or self-isolating, keeping this advice at the forefront of everyone’s mind could mean the difference between being able to return to a more normal way of life, and the need for extended isolation.

Helen Iliff, an anaesthetics trainee at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil who has herself been shielding, joined our community check-in this week to share with the group the work that she and Baroness Ilora Finlay have spearheaded, to secure endorsement from the Welsh Government for a social distancing symbol.

Helen has developed the new ‘distance aware’ symbol (as seen below) to act as a ‘polite prompt’ to others to remind them to maintain their distance as lockdown restrictions ease. Helen is keen to see the use of the symbol adopted as widely as possible.

Picture showing the shield design of the socially distanced symbol in various colours - yellow, blue, red and green.

Just two days after being presented with the idea on Tuesday 30 June the Welsh Government had endorsed the initiative. Within weeks, an initial batch of 130,000 badges and 40,000 lanyards had been made, which are now available for distribution for free through NHS services in Wales. Helen has written to other nations’ (England, Scotland and NI) governments asking that they endorse the symbol and is currently awaiting their response. A survey in Northern Ireland is currently being run to collect information on people’s opinions of introducing a similar scheme.

The proposal for a universal distancing symbol has gathered a huge amount of support, not only from those who are shielding but also from those who are not. We asked members of the genetic, rare and undiagnosed communities what they thought about the idea of wearing a distancing symbol and the response was generally positive. Although some raised concern about drawing attention to themselves, a poll on our Twitter account showed that 71% of respondents thought a social distancing symbol was a good idea. One person replied ‘I would wear it and make people aware of it, especially as going back into the work environment after months shielding makes me nervous.’

Other respondents, whilst in support of the idea, raised concerns about how effective it would be and questioned whether people would take it seriously with one person stating ‘it will only work if others pay attention to it’. This highlights the need for government and NHS endorsement in the remaining nations and a concerted campaign to raise public recognition of the symbol throughout the UK.

The symbol that Helen has developed is a distinctive shield surrounded by chevrons and is available in a range of colours. The symbol can be used on pin badges, lanyards, stickers and other items. It is not meant to be an identifier of someone who has been shielding or may have any specific health conditions, rather the intent is to encourage personal responsibility and respect for others.

As people tire of social distancing, the symbol comes as a clear and helpful reminder to be respectful of those who need or wish to maintain a safe distance. The initiative could prove especially valuable for those who can’t wear face-masks.

The great news is that the symbol can already be freely downloaded and adapted for use by individual charities and organisations.

You can find more information, including how to adapt the Distance Aware Symbol for use by your organisation, on the Bevan Commission website.

You can also follow @DistanceAware on Twitter and tag them in your Tweets about the social distancing symbol.