A team of scientists have used high-tech equipment to show just how far coughs can travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The government and health officials have urged the public to follow social distancing rules by standing at least two metres apart from one another as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.
And a filmed experiment has now shown why this is so important – even if you try and shield your coughs.
In the video, recorded by researchers from the Chair of Building Physics at Bauhaus University in Weimar, a man breathes normally, coughs without protection, into his hand, the crook of his elbow, and into a dust mask and surgical mask.
A streak mirror is used to show the tiniest movements of indoor airflow, invisible to the naked eye.
In all of the videos, air is seen rising from the man due to his body heat.
His normal breathing spreads the air to about a foot in front of him.
When he coughs without covering his mouth, a burst of air shoots forwards and out of the frame.
Coughing into his hand isn’t much better – some of the air is deflected upwards but a lot still sprays out forwards.
The most effective barrier appears to be coughing into the crook of his arm, a practice that is often said to be the most hygienic.
While the surgical and dust masks disrupt the air, the man’s cough still appears to travel about 20cm and 40cm respectively.
"Especially when coughing without protection from the mouth, it becomes clear how much the air we breathe spreads through the room," explains Professor Conrad Völker, head of the Chair of Building Physics.
For this reason, the mouth must be covered when coughing, the experiment shows.
"The best thing is with the crook of the arm, also to keep hands clean and not to carry any viruses or other pathogens through body contact or surfaces," adds Prof Völker.
Although the use of respiratory masks shows an improvement, there is no 100% protection against droplets.
The latest figures from Public Health England states that 5,683 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK and 281 patients with COVID-19 have died.
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