The recent COVID-19 pandemic has led to “social distancing” recommendations from public health organizations, as physical closeness bears the risk of person-to-person SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Here, it was explored if interpersonal distance preferences and touch behaviors in 41 countries are valid measures of physical distancing in contacts between strangers and whether they relate to country-level variation in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The analysis, based on aggregated data from more than 9,000 participants, showed that variation in early transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (i.e., total number of SARS-CoV-2 cases 20 days after the 100th case) was significantly and positively related to non-affective touch behaviors between strangers, and significantly and negatively related to the preferred interpersonal distance between strangers. These findings suggest that the two measures are suitable for monitoring the extent to which recommendations on physical distance are implemented at the country-level in the context of COVID 19 outbreak. Further, they confirm that physical distancing is related to the dynamics of the COVID-19 outbreak. It seems that an adaptation of social behaviors – i.e., strict physical distancing from strangers – may result in a lower SARS-CoV-2 transmission rate.