Countries around the world may gradually be easing their lockdowns, but it's increasingly apparent that "normal" is still a long way off. To limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, there needs to be continued social distancing in all aspects of our lives, from school and work to dining and leisure activities. And keeping up with these changes, people are realizing, requires some major new ideas and innovations in design.

  • After allowing shops to begin reopening, Germany is hoping to soon give bars and restaurants the green light as well. But that raises a tricky question: How to make eating out compatible with the new social distancing measures? One restaurant owner thinks he has the answer. The man, originally from Greece, created a new type of face mask that includes a zipper, which diners can simply open and close every time they want to take a bite or a sip. The creator told the Greek Reporter that a large company already expressed interest in producing and marketing his innovation.

  • Social distancing is also, of course, a concern in schools, which are gradually resuming activities in various countries around the globe. Face masks are one option. But in China, pupils at Yangzheng School in Hangzhou returned to classes with an even more eye-catching accessory: "social distancing hats," with a one-meter-long pole jutting out the sides. Have a look here.

  • For people in search of an even greater level of protection, a design studio in Italy has created a prototype for the ultimate social-distancing gear: a personal inflatable bubble. The item, developed by the studio DesignLibero, is made of a fluorine-based plastic and runs on solar energy, the website Daily Geek Show explains. Like something of science fiction, the bubble also contains a compressor and ventilator that purify and filter the air inside. Take that coronavirus!

  • ABC Displays in Bogota, Colombia created a bed that can be converted into a coffin to deal with the influx of corpses. While it's made almost entirely out of cardboard, it is strong enough to hold the weight of a body. The company used cardboard because it is cheap and widely available material: Each bed costs less than $100. The first 10 will be donated to Colombia's Amazon region, one of the parts of the country worst hit by the pandemic.

  • Air travel is another area where social distancing makes sense, but is easier said than done. With that in mind, the Italian firm Aviointeriors has a simple but potentially effective idea: reverse the middle seat to ensure maximum isolation between passengers. Another concept being floated these days, according to the industry publication Flight Global reports, is to install a bubble of transparent material above each seat that encases the passenger's head and shoulders.

The Aviointeriors plane seat design that respects social distancing. — Photo: Aviointeriors

  • Planes, schools and restaurants aren't the only places germs spread. People can also get sick in their own homes — just by touching a dirty doorknob, for example. One way to stay heathy, in other words, is to keep hands off handles, which is why a number of designers are working on simple and attachable door-opening prototypes. A Welsh designer invented a hands-free door pull that works like an "arm extension." And in Belgium, a firm figured out that by fastening a pair of specially designed, 3D-printed pieces over an existing handle, people can easily open the door with an elbow.


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