The message behind a popular coronavirus meme and why it's so important

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

A viral meme is being shared for its powerful message about the importance of self-isolation during the coronavirus outbreak.

The graphic, shared by doctors and celebrities alike, used a set of matches to illustrate how easily one person could be the difference between a whole new cohort being infected by the virus.

“I just read something that said even if you’re not worried because you think you’re not going to get it, the best thing to do is act like you already have it and you don’t want to infect the people around you,” the caption read.

The image showed seven burnt matches separated from six unburnt matches by a single match separating from the group.

This image has been widely shared on social media to illustrate how one person can save a large group from coronavirus. Source: Instagram/tanksgoodnews

The image attempted to show how much of an impact one person – by staying home – could have on preventing an entire group from becoming infected.

This method of self isolation has been recommended by Professor Nigel McMillan, an Infectious Diseases and Immunology expert at the Menzies Health Institute in Queensland.

“At present, social distancing is appropriate but for older people and at-risk groups I would consider isolating as much as possible,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“Especially in Sydney, where the majority of community spread is occurring in Australia.”

How isolation can stop the spread

Prof McMillan said he too had shared the meme to his Facebook page, hoping to warn others of the important message it contained.

“It’s a simple view of breaking the chain and why isolation is used to stop the spread,” he said.

“Viruses need a host and to pass on, so if you isolate then you deny the virus that opportunity.”

More than 1000 people left comments to the Instagram post expressing why they hoped people would take these current health warnings seriously.

“I really wish more people understood this concept,” one person wrote.

“100 per cent true. Just assume you have it. Stay home,” another said.

The reasons for social distancing

A spokesperson from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners told Yahoo News Australia there were social distancing rules in place for an important reason.

“The current health advice regarding social distancing is there for a reason and that is to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep people safe, particularly those among us who are at greater risk such as older people and those with underlying health conditions,” they said.

“Social distancing involves avoiding crowded public places and keeping your distance from others where possible – 1.5 meters approximately.

This is the distance needed between people to minimise the risk of droplet transmission, which can happen if someone who has the virus coughs or sneezes.”

The current official advice in Australia is for the general public to practise good hygiene and social distancing, and to self quarantine for 14 days after returning from overseas or after contact with a confirmed case.

Mass gatherings of more than 500 people have also been banned and so have indoor gatherings of more than 100 in a move designed to quell the spread of the virus.

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