Pandemic social bubble: pros and cons

A travel bubble is also a form of social bubble.

Covid-19: Fact vs Myths

When Syazwanie’s father texted, asking her if there was any possibility for Sarawak to have a relaxed travel restriction for non-Sarawakians soon, she was worried.

Dr Andrew Kiyu

She worried because she felt this wasn’t the right time for her 60-year-old father — who is stuck in Kota Kinabalu since last Sept — to travel.

Speaking to New Sarawak Tribune recently, Sarawak epidemiologist Professor Datuk Dr Andrew Kiyu revealed that prospective travellers like Syazwani’s father demonstrates the importance of social interaction during the pandemic as a mechanism for self-de-stressing.

“Showing support and care especially to those who are far away from their family members and living alone, working or studying abroad is important.”

Covid-19 social bubbles

Well, the bubble that is being mentioned here does not refer to bubble tea drink. Think about the foaming bubble. It is fun to play with, but it bursts easily.

Dr Andrew Kiyu said similar to this structure the social bubble needs to be preserved because it is fragile.

“Bubble is an unofficial term used to describe the cluster of people outside your household with whom you feel comfortable spending time with during the pandemic.

“You probably have a Covid-19 ‘bubble’ and don’t know it. It could be your group of close friends, your extended family members or your neighbours.

“Thus, the bubble is a small group of people who have agreed to socialise only with each other and take the same precautions,” he explained.

Elaborating the concept, he said the framework, first introduced in New Zealand, was mainly to empower passive and vulnerable people such as the disabled.

“New Zealand was the first country to implement an extended bubble during Covid-19, allowing people to have close contact with family members outside their household, under its ‘alert level-3’ restrictions.”

He pointed out that the idea of extending the bubble was one of the ways to help those vulnerable groups and being mindful on the mental health effect caused by the pandemic.

“The idea is that you can extend your ‘bubble’ to selected people. So, you can have more in-person social interactions beyond your household, while still potentially limiting the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

“It doesn’t mean that you go out and resume contact with everyone you know, but rather you commit to only hanging out with certain individuals.

“In a nutshell, this is a way of balancing the risk of exposure to Covid-19 with our need for social interaction, allowing vulnerable and isolated people to have social connections to help cope with the stress of a pandemic,” he explained.

Forming the bubble

Dr Andrew said there are three strategies to form a social bubble.

In the first strategy, based on seeking similarity, individuals choose their contact partners based on the similarity of a predetermined individual characteristic.

For instance, living in the same area or among colleagues of the same organisation.

“The second strategy is to strengthen the community. For example, two friends should only meet if they have many other friends in common.

“The third strategy is to build bubbles through repeated contacts, whom they regularly want to interact with.

“And over time, this will reduce the number of closed bubbles, but not reducing how frequent is the interactions,” he explained.

Another alternative strategy, he pointed out, is by creating the social bubbles, where it only allows interactions within the members.

“This strategy of limiting contact to a select few with repeated interactions, in the spirit of a social contract. This social bubble only allows interactions within the same group delineated by common agreement,” he said.

Will the bubble burst?

If managed appropriately, he reckoned that the concept of social bubbles can be effective.

“Extending contacts beyond the household while limiting the increase in epidemic risk is also possible,” he said.

He indicated the fundamental conceptual framework and model called ‘Event R’, is imperative in measuring the effectiveness.

“To be better able to guide both policymakers and event planners, the researchers behind this study have developed a conceptual framework and model called ‘Event R’.

“According to this concept, the fundamental mathematical relationship assumes there is a person with Covid-19 infection present at social events,” he noted.

Highlighting the effect of transmission of the virus, he remarked the speed of the virus transmission was influenced by the saturation within a particular setting.

“Having small social bubbles that stick together throughout the exposure period and don’t mix with others may be more effective than only wearing masks.

“This is because the researchers calculated that even if wearing masks can reduce the transmission rate by 50 percent, it won’t have the same effect on the probability of transmission at such huge events like parties and crowded places,” he stressed.

He reminded those who intended to join a particular social bubble to be always aware and avoid the 3Cs (Confined, Close Setting, Crowded).

“Having a social bubble will increase the risk of getting Covid-19 infection because you are increasing the number of people you are interacting with.

“Even within your social bubble, it is important that you continue to practise social distancing like opting for outdoor activities, maintaining six feet apart from others and wearing a mask when indoors,” he advised.


There are a few things to keep in mind when considering if a social bubble is right for you and your family:

•          Keep your social bubble small and exclusive. Do not hang out with multiple groups.

•          Can you trust that others in your social bubble will limit their interactions outside of the group and in the community?

•          What are your health status and the health status of those you want in your social bubble?