• People around the globe are giving up kisses and handshakes to limit the spread of germs.
  • Health officials have called on citizens to use alternatives like elbow bumps and pats on the back to greet others.

People around the world are shifting the way they greet others, dispensing with kisses and handshakes in an effort to avoid contracting the ever-more prevalent COVID-19, or Coronavirus.

The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to every continent with the exception of Antarctica, prompting fears of a global pandemic.

As a result, public health officials have been urging citizens across different countries not to touch when greeting other people and to practice so-called social distancing.

“We know that keeping one’s distance socially is the best way to slow the spread of the virus. That is why renouncing greeting kisses is a measure that should be seriously taken into consideration," Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset recently said.

Meanwhile, the French government also urged citizens to refrain from the traditional double cheek kissing greeting, known as la bise, to slow the virus's spread.

"The reduction in social contacts of a physical nature is advised," French Health Minister Oliver Véran warned. "That includes the practice of the bise. The virus is circulating in our territory and we must now slow down its spread."

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

What are the alternatives?

Dr. Sylvie Briand, the director of the Department of Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases at the World Health Organization (WHO), has called for new means of greeting people as the virus spreads. This week on Twitter she shared a cartoon showed alternatives to handshakes, including waving, elbow bumping and the Thai "wai" semi-bow.

In China, the authorities have implored people to use the traditional gong shou gesture - a fist in the opposite palm - as a means of greeting others. While in Australia, the health minister suggested giving people a pat on the back in lieu of a handshake.

Meanwhile, the "Wuhan shake," which involves foot tapping another person, has gone viral on social media.

The concern over spreading the virus is not just a concern for the general public, but is also impacting how top political leaders interact. Germany's interior minister, Horst Seehofer, on Monday resisted a handshake from Chancellor Angela Merkel, prompting her to put up both her hands in a revised greeting before the two sat down to a meeting.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and German Chancellor Angela Merkel talk before a migration summit at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, March 2, 2020.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and German Chancellor Angela Merkel talk before a migration summit at the Chancellery in Berlin, but don't shake hands due to fears of coronavirus.
Image: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

More than 87,000 people worldwide have been infected by the coronavirus, with the vast majority of cases in China. The disease, which is most risky for the elderly or sick, spreads primarily through the droplets produced when a person speaks, coughs or sneezes, according to the WHO. But experts say the best way to resist the virus is through taking extra hygiene measures, particularly thorough hand-washing.