Social life cancelled in coronavirus lockdown

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Is it morally wrong to socialise? Boris Johnson has followed other countries in recommending strict social distancing to lessen the impact of Covid-19 – but will people put it into practice?

Do you have plans for the weekend? You may want to rethink them.

Last night, the UK joined a wave of countries using emergency social distancing measures to slow the progress of Covid-19. The latest research suggests most people will be infected by someone who hasn’t developed symptoms. This means it is healthy people socialising who are spreading the virus – and not the sick in hospital.

The solution, experts say, is to limit our interaction with other people, avoid indoor gatherings, concerts, restaurants, and cinemas. But are we really willing to give up our social lives?

The most at risk from the virus are those over 70 and people with underlying health problems. The young have little to fear, so why worry? But some see Italy as a warning. The journalist Mattia Ferraresi writes: “many of us were too selfish to change our behaviour” and now people are “needlessly dying”.

You may be fine, but what about the woman you sit next to on the bus? And if you infect her, who will she infect? And so on. The faster the epidemic spreads, the more people will be at risk and it will be harder for hospitals to cope.

Understanding the theory is one thing, but it is much harder to put into practice. As anthropology shows, we are social animals and we need time spent with family and friends.

And to many, each situation is unique and important. Do you cancel the surprise birthday party you’ve planned for your friend? Do you stop visiting your 90-year-old grandmother, who lives alone and always looks forward to seeing you? Do you throw away your ticket to see your favourite band (if they haven’t cancelled already)?

Each decision is a moral conundrum and it is very easy to make excuses. But many want us to take responsibility. Photos of packed New York bars and cafes at the weekend outraged people online. Shame is a powerful way to get us to change our behaviour, but how can it be morally wrong to socialise?

Some worry that the term “social distancing” is dangerous and misleading. The medical advice is about physical proximity, not socialising. In fact, studies show that staying connected to a social network is vital for surviving a crisis. Loneliness and isolation can be as dangerous to people’s health as viral infection.

So, is it morally wrong to socialise?

Not out

It really is wrong now, say our leaders. Doing the right thing is never easy and it is important to stress how serious and exceptional this situation is. By ignoring guidelines and carrying on as normal, we show a lack of respect to the most vulnerable and to the health care workers who face the consequences of our actions.

No, it isn’t, say others. Socialising is not a luxury, but a basic necessity that we cannot live without. All activities carry risks and we must consider the pros and cons. There is a serious danger that the fear of contagion will become worse than contagion itself. For example, many people are already living in families or households. What difference if two households agree to share the risk by meeting regularly?

You Decide

  1. Would you cancel your birthday party to help stop coronavirus?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to stop people being infected in public spaces?


  1. Watch the video about social distancing. In the centre of a piece of paper draw a person infected with the coronavirus. Then drawing arrows and pictures, show how socialising spreads the virus.
  2. Make four columns on a piece of paper. In the first column, list five social activities that you are looking forward to. In the other three columns, explain why they are important, how they could spread coronavirus, and how you could change your plans to reduce the risk.

Some People Say...

“Our very lives depend on the ethics of strangers, and most of us are always strangers to other people.”

Bill Moyers, American journalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Coronavirus spreads so rapidly because it is infectious before it begins to make people sick. Healthy people go out and socialise and the virus spreads. Close physical contact allows droplets to transmit the virus on our hands and breath. This is why guidelines recommend keeping a distance of two metres between you and other people when in public. This means most forms of socialising have a high risk of causing infection.
What do we not know?
Moral questions are about personal choice, responsibility, and choosing between right and wrong. But should we have to make these moral decisions about spending time with our loved ones? If it is a matter of public health, some believe we shouldn’t be given a choice at all. But if we can choose whether to socialise, how far do we take responsibility for our actions? We need to balance our own desire and need to spend time with friends, with the potential harm it may cause.

Word Watch

Social distancing
A way of reducing infection by controlling and reducing social interactions.
The new disease caused by the coronavirus which has spread to most countries around the world and killed thousands.
Covid-19 causes coughing, a high-temperature, and shortness of breath.
The virus spread rapidly despite attempts to contain it. So far, almost 30,000 people have been infected and over 2,000 have died.
Moral conundrum
A moral dilemma, or a decision with no clear right solution. All possible options have positive and negative consequences.
Physical proximity
To be close to someone. Medical advice recommends keeping at least two metres between people to prevent infection.
Research links loneliness to a weakened immune system and an increased risk of infection.

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