Public health and social measures (PHSMs) are a key strategy to reduce the transmission of pathogens with epidemic or pandemic potential. PHSMs include non-pharmaceutical interventions that can be taken by individuals, institutions, communities, local and national governments and international bodies to slow or stop the spread of an infectious disease, such as COVID-19. Individuals can, for example, engage in behaviours such as frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a mask and keeping a physical distance from other people. Authorities and communities can enact measures such as contact tracing, isolation of cases and contacts, school measures, business closures, restricting public gatherings, travel bans and cordon sanitaire.
PHSMs can prevent individuals from being exposed to the virus, decreasing the number of people who will become sick, require hospitalization or die from the disease. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been referred to as flattening the curve. PHSMs reduce the pressure on the healthcare system and buy time to develop pharmaceutical interventions like vaccines and medication.