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Has the handshake gone forever? Public health experts say traditional greeting may never return

Shaking hands may become a thing of the past because of Covid-19, public health experts have said. 

And the UK should replace the traditional greeting with bowing, according to one scientist who argued Britain needs a more ‘Japanese approach’.  

Professor Dame Anne Johnson, vice president of the Academy of Medical Science, said a cultural shift was needed to stop a second wave and called for fewer hand shakes and less kissing.

Professor Peter Piot, a microbiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added: ‘Shaking hands is probably out forever.’    

The two experts appeared in front of the House of Lords’ Science and Technology select committee yesterday.   

Professor Piot said that individual behaviour needs to change in order to combat coronavirus and the possibility of other epidemics. 

During the discussion on Covid-19 with peers, he said: ‘Using face masks when you have a common cold should be the norm.’

He also claimed there was evidence from Australia to show that Covid-19 prevention measures were also stopping the spread of other illnesses. 

Professor Piot also said the origin of not shaking hands in some cultures ‘may have been determined by the need to avoid epidemics’, The Telegraph reports.

He did not name the countries he was referring to — but Japan is one country that is famed for eschewing hand shakes in favour of bowing. 

It’s unclear where the Japanese tradition of bowing in greeting originated from — but historians believe it can be traced back to the 5th century. 

In the same briefing, Dame Anne said: ‘It’s really important to suppress the virus as much as we can.

‘If you’ve got a cold or flu stay home, stay out the way. Less shaking of hands, kissing and more of the Japanese approach.’ 

Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said prevention measures would only be necessary until a treatment is proven to work.   

The comments on hand shakes come after it was revealed leading scientific advisers urged the government to tell people to stop shaking hands on March 3.

But it was the same day Boris Johnson boasted about shaking hands with ‘everybody’ — 20 days before he announced the UK’s lockdown.  

A meeting of the behavioural group that feeds into SAGE on March 3 concluded that ‘Government should advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging’. 

‘A public message against shaking hands has additional value as a signal about the importance of hand hygiene,’ the experts said. 

‘Promoting a replacement greeting or encouraging others to politely decline a proffered hand-shake may have benefit.’ 

However, that evening Mr Johnson told a press conference in Downing Street that he ‘continued to shake hands’ and the important thing was washing them.   

He said: ‘I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands. 

‘People obviously can make up their own minds but I think the scientific evidence is… our judgement is that washing your hands is the crucial thing.’ 

Over subsequent days Mr Johnson was seen shaking hands with celebrities and dignitaries.   

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