Social distancing rules: it’s OK to tell strangers not to invade your space

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Hollie Richardson
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Social distancing rules.

Fed up of trying to step out of other people’s way while on your daily outing? One writer makes a case for politely reminding them about the new social distancing rules.

I never thought that popping into Sainsbury’s on a sunny Sunday afternoon would leave me a withering wreck. But last weekend, I was plagued with anxiety after making a trip to the local store. My list was simple: eggs, bananas, milk, pasta and an Easter Egg (considered an essential in these times). This was a quick in-and-out job. Sure, I – like many others – live with a constant low hum of anxiety these days. And my strict daily outing only amplifies that hum, despite the fact that we are allowed to go out for exercise and food shops. 

But other people who don’t follow social distancing rules while I’m out are turning the anxiety up to a deafening volume. 

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It started when I first left my flat and felt the glorious sunshine on my face. I decided to take a detour around London Fields and along the canal while listening to an audiobook (Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth, if anyone needs a recommendation). If we’re only allowed outside once a day, we might as well try and enjoy it as much as we can, right?

But I found myself having to jump out of the way of runners who clearly gave zero fucks about brushing past me with their sweaty bodies and heavy breaths. And I had to slow down, speed up and do 90° turns to avoid people who were totally oblivious to the people around them. I felt a bit like a pixelated Sims character walking around in circles.

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When I arrived at the shop, I danced in the queue to make sure there was always two metres between me and other customers. Then, as I was picking out a bunch of bananas, I saw a woman’s hand in the corner of my eye. She was stood right next to me, scooping up some apples. Speechless, I was thankful when the security man shouted across to her: “Stay two metres apart!”

But why couldn’t I say that to her myself? What was stopping me? Is it OK to tell people to get our of your two-metre perimeter? 

Social distancing rules: we need to stick to them to beat coronavirus.
Social distancing rules: we need to stick to them to beat coronavirus.

I could write a whole essay in answer to those former questions, detailing my shy nature and inability to say boo to a goose. But I know that the answer to that latter question is a firm: yes. 

To reminds ourselves of the government guidelines, everybody in the UK should:

- only go outside for food, health reasons or work (only if you cannot work from homes),

- two metres (6ft) away from other people at all times while outdoors,

- wash your hands as soon as you get home,

- avoid meeting others, even friends or family.

If somebody isn’t doing this, they are putting your life, their life and other people’s lives at risk. Asking someone to not break government rules by invading your space during this time isn’t rude or troublesome. It’s the responsible, safe and right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do.

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Look, I get it: this is a pandemic, and it’s completely new to us. It takes a while to adjust, and it’s easy to forget the imaginary chalk lines circled around us. But people have been isolating for weeks, now, so there’s really no excuse. We’ve seen photos of the ExCel hospital being set up, we’ve watched the viral media messages of coronavirus patients telling us to stay at home, we’ve read the daily death tolls. 

It’s a total privilege to be able to go outside and breathe in some fresh air at the moment, and some people just need to be politely reminded of this.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…