COVID-19

Au revoir, social kissing, hello, elbow bump - how we're adapting to the Coronavirus

A couple wearing masks kiss at a main shopping area, in downtown Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, February 16, 2020.

A couple wearing masks kiss at a main shopping area, in downtown Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus. Image: REUTERS/Aly Song

Christopher Alessi
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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COVID-19

  • 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."

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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.

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