How the bubble might be a healthful strategy in a pandemic


Photo: Brocken Inaglory. image edited by Alvesgaspar. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

With no vaccine or cure in sight for this coronavirus, the “bubble” is increasingly seen as a viable health strategy.

New Zealand put it out as a model, with the single bubble comprising a single household.

Parts of Canada are pioneering the double bubble, which allows a household to join with one other household in a mutually exclusive relationship.

Now, the British government is asking scientists to examine the possibility of allowing people to create similar social bubbles. Belgium too is looking into the idea.

So what is the bubble and how might it be a healthful strategy in a pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus for which there may be no cure or vaccine for the foreseeable future. According to The Guardian, Stefan Flasche, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is creating models around a version of this “contact clustering” concept.

And Oxford University sociologist Per Block told euronews that “bubbles” might be a good way forward to reduce social isolation while limiting chains of transmission of infection. “If we all interact within this small group of people, we can prevent the virus spreading further,” he said. “If I am in a bubble with nine people, I can only spread the virus to them and they can’t spread it any further”.

This makes a lot of sense as governments try to ease lockdowns without a spike in infections. New Zealand’s bubble strategy, for instance, allows single bubbles to be expanded “to reconnect with close family or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people”. Thereby, it enables the care of people who need support – but  were outside the original single bubble in the lockdown – while providing opportunities for individuals to socialise despite the pandemic.

But there’s a catch, as pointed out by Mr Block, who authored a recent study on how to reintroduce social interaction. “These strategies only work if we stick to them. If we want to have a social bubble of ten, then all ten people need to stick to it”.

So what this really means is that bubbles work so long as they stay intact. They can be burst if people try to find ways around them.