Covid: If you can smell someone's 'garlic breath', you're close enough to be infected, expert says

Pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen, but only outdoors, as Covid-19 can be spread more easily indoors. Credit: PA

If you can smell someone's breath, you are probably close enough for someone to give you Covid-19, an expert has said.

Dr Julian Tang, a consultant virologist at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, called it the "garlic-breath distance" and said while wearing masks and social distancing help reduce coronavirus transmission, more emphasis is needed on ventilation indoors.

Asked on Sky News whether the previous focus on hand washing and sanitising was wrong, Dr Tang said: “I think the emphasis is wrong. So the message ‘hands, face, space’, we think should be really ‘space, space, hands’.

“The way this virus transmits is really through conversational distance, within one metre.

“When you’re talking to a friend or sharing the same air as you’re listening to your friend talking, we call it the garlic-breath distance.

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“So if you can smell your friend’s lunch, you’re inhaling some of that air as well as any virus that’s inhaled with it.

“And this is why we say that masking is fine, social distancing is fine, but the indoor airborne environment needs to be improved and that can be done with ventilation.”

Dr Tang, an honorary associate professor in the Department of Respiratory Sciences, continued: “If you think about it, if you burn your toast in the kitchen, if you open the windows and doors, the back door, it clears very quickly.

"So you keep the windows open even halfway most of the time, then you can improve that ventilation rate in the indoor area and that reduces the overall airborne concentration that you can actually then reduce the risk of transmission from."

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The virologist wrote in an article in the British Medical Journal that air ventilation becomes "much more important" if we accept that someone can catch Covid-19 even when more than two metres away from an infected person indoors.

He said the quality of masks are also important. "High filtration efficiency and a good fit" are needed because tiny particles in the air can find their way around any gaps between the mask and face, he wrote.

Dr Tang's comments come as some indoor services were allowed to reopen on Monday, including gyms, hairdressers, non-essential shops, libraries and community centres.

Pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen, but could only operate with outdoor tables.