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Near yet far




A New York City regular subway passenger hated being crowded while sitting on the train. One day, he brought a bottle of ketchup with him and once seated, pulled it out of his bag and squirted a perimeter on the train floor. The trick worked as other passengers avoided the spill and left him with enough breathing room.

The Daily Beast senior editor and writer Pervaiz Shallwani caught the scene on his cell phone camera and tweeted the photo on 7 February 2020. The tweet went viral, even eliciting a comment from the train operator, MTA, which tweeted him back to ask for the train number so the mess could be cleaned up.

These days, when an incurable and potentially deadly virus may be lurking, it is safe to avoid crowded places like trains. If that can’t be avoided though, wearing a face mask or keeping a safe distance from others should protect anyone from infection. That is why in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak of the novel coronavirus started in December, killing more than 800 people to date and infecting 27,100 in China’s Hubei province alone, local authorities have resorted to a no contact interaction.

Wuhan police use drones with a loudspeaker to tell people they see outdoors to go inside their homes. Drones mounted with a thermal scanner also check people’s temperature and controllers direct those with fever to hospitals.

Businesses which need to continue serving customers also adopted the no contact rule. Across China, fast-food restaurants shunned by diners in particular are counting on delivery service to keep getting orders and making sales. To assure customers that the delivery service is safe, videos of delivery guys getting a temperature check, disinfected and masked before leaving the store premises are posted on social media platforms WeChat and Weibo for customers to see.

The delivery guy and customer then meet in an agreed upon place where the former puts the order package at an agreed upon spot and move two meters away from it. The customer also stands six feet away from the package, which is the distance considered by experts as unreachable by breath or cough droplets coming from a person infected with a virus.

The sight of a fast-food delivery guy and a customer interacting four meters or 12 feet apart with the order between them seems awkward. It can get amusing if, as one moves closer, the other one steps back to keep distance while cha-cha-cha music plays in the background.

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