Mandatory Umbrella Use and Other Social-Distancing Hacks From Around the World

Umbrellas help people in one Indian town keep their distance. Photo: @drthomasisaac/Twitter

In the United States, getting people to practice safe social distancing has been accomplished largely through a combination of persuasion and punishment. If the infographics don’t convince you to keep six feet from strangers, the police-operated drones (or, more likely, the prospect of fines) probably will.

In other countries, local officials and creative citizens have devised different methods to ensure that people maintain proper spacing, from legally required umbrella use to threats of being drenched with a fire hose. Here are some of the more novel approaches to encouraging, or enforcing, social distancing around the world:

Mandatory umbrellas

Residents of Alappuzha, a city in the Indian coastal state of Kerala, are being told to use umbrellas when they go outside, regardless of the weather. Two people with open umbrellas are guaranteed to be a “minimum distance of one meter from one another,” Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac tweeted this week. The city is reportedly providing thousands of umbrellas for free to residents who don’t have them.

Meter-long hats

Students who returned to one elementary school in Hangzhou, China this week were asked to bring a new school supply befitting the COVID-19 era: a hat with a meter-long object on top. Some students accomplished this task using cardboard, others with balloons; all did their part to keep up social distancing while participating in a sartorial tradition with a long history.

Threats of deluge

A fire truck rolled through the streets of Santiago in the Dominican Republic last week warning people that violations of social-distancing rules would be met with a drenching. A recording broadcasted from the vehicle warned locals to maintain a two-meter distance while in public: “Respete la distancia.” In a tweet, Santiago Mayor Abel Martinez wrote that people complied without the truck “spilling a single drop of water.”


In Iceland, people who miss embracing their grandparents should hug a tree instead, the Icelandic Forestry Service said this month. As one park ranger told a local news source, “You feel when you hug that it starts in your toes and up your legs and up your body and then into your brain. You get such a good relaxing feeling and are ready for a new day and new challenges.”

Wearing a machine

Toronto artist Daniel Rotsztain was inspired to build a contraption he calls a “social-distancing machine” after trying to walk through town while maintaining six feet of distance from others. Then he put the device, made of plastic rods and rubber tubing, on a friend and made a now-viral video. Rotsztain tweeted that Toronto should close major streets to allow pedestrians more room to walk. “Our sidewalks are too narrow to keep a safe distance,” he wrote.

Spreading animal waste

One town in Sweden is discouraging crowds from gathering in a local park by spreading 2,000 pounds of chicken manure to deter crowds and promote soil health. “It will stink of chicken manure and won’t be pleasant for people to be around, but the chicken has a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen, so the park will be nice just in time for the summer,” Mayor Philip Sandberg cheerily told CNN.

Mandatory Umbrella Use and Other Social-Distancing Hacks