Culture, Social Distance and the Corona Crisis

In today’s context of the coronavirus global pandemic, social distance has become a major topic as a measure to contain the spread of the virus. Indeed, it has been proved that keeping a distance of two meters or more with other individuals can prevent contagion; something crucial nowadays that a vaccine isn’t yet available.


While the same rules have been established almost everywhere to combat the virus: social distancing, rigorous hygiene protocols and mask usage, the results differ by country. Some cultures are inherently better equipped to adopt these measures while others struggle and question the validity of this “new normality”.


For example, cultures that embrace personal contact, that greet via hugs and kisses and that are used to physical proximity are expected to have a hard time to comply with the new social distance approach. For individuals in these cultures it is complicated, and almost unnatural to conceive a life with limited social activities or without physical manifestations of affection. This is probably why Latin countries have been showing difficulties to adhere to the new rules. On the contrary, countries in North America and Northern Europe were personal space is usually high and people-to-people contact generally low, should be better prepared to adopt social distancing protocols, therefore, effectively contributing to slow down the propagation of the coronavirus.


Whether it is because personal space is high, or collectivism is prominent (common goals prevail over individual ones), or there is a high respect towards hierarchical structures and decisions taken by the authorities, or rules are effectively enforced and followed, some cultures with certain inherent competitive advantages will better combat the global pandemic than others.


While it is true that some cultures are better positioned to adhere to the new rules, they will also need to rely on economic, sanitary, educational, empathic and moral factors (to name a few) to successfully navigate these challenging times. Only by exploiting strengths, avoiding mistakes, working together and emulating the correct examples, will countries across the globe be able to defeat the virus.

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