Daily Outlook

Hello, social distancing. Goodbye, handshakes?

It started centuries ago as a symbol of peace, a gesture to prove you weren’t holding a weapon, and over time it became part of almost every social, religious, professional, business and sporting exchange.

But the new coronavirus has forced a rethink of the handshake. No matter how friendly, it is an exchange of potentially infectious microorganisms.

“Hands are like a busy intersection, constantly connecting our microbiome to the microbiomes of other people, places, and things,” a group of scientists wrote in the Journal of Dermatological Science. Hands, they said, are the “critical vector” for transmitting microorganisms including viruses.

But if it is no longer automatically acceptable, what will replace the handshake as a fixture of post-coronavirus social etiquette? A fist or elbow bump? Maybe a traditional Japanese bow or hat doff? How about Spock’s Vulcan salute from Star Trek?

We are social beings. When we meet one another, we press flesh. We take our largest organ, skin, and mash it together with someone else’s – naked. In the middle of the coronavirus it has become clear just how intimate such a gesture is.

Our hands can carry Salmonella, E. coli, norovirus and respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. And, given how frequently scientists find poop on our fingers and palms, our hygiene habits are far less fastidious than we think.

Handshakes have long been a way for humans to signal one another, and part of the ritual of seeking common ground. The long, hard squeeze of U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 was a classic display of two males seeking dominance. Some handshakes, like the bouncing clasp of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, take months to negotiate.

Awkward or smooth, handshakes are a hard habit to break, even if we want to. Minutes after announcing a ban on shaking hands to combat COVID-19, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte enthusiastically pumped the hand of Jaap Van Dissel, the head of the Dutch Centre for Infectious Disease Control. “Sorry, sorry! No, that’s not allowed! Let’s do that again,” Rutte said, breaking into a laugh.

Hello, social distancing. Goodbye, handshakes?, Reuters, Apr 29

Article Rating