If we manage to beat Covid-19, we may have to adjust to a new normal — life without handshakes. The good old handshake might just have to fade into history, according to leading US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci, if we want to prevent diseases such as the coronavirus and influenza.
On a Wall Street Journal podcast that aired on Tuesday (April 7), Dr Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of experts leading the charge against Covid-19 in the US, spoke on how life can eventually return to some level of normalcy.
“It isn’t like a light switch on and off, it’s a gradual pulling back on certain of the restrictions and to try and get society a bit back to normal,” said Dr Fauci.
He told podcast host Kate Linebaugh that when the US and the rest of the world come out of lockdown restrictions, people’s behaviours need to change, and hand-shaking is one of them.
“When you gradually come back, you don’t jump into it with both feet,” Dr Fauci said.
In terms of the things people could “still do and still approach normal”, the expert had two concrete answers:
“One of them is absolute compulsive hand-washing. The other is you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands,” he insisted.
Dr Fauci continued to explain why hand-shaking needs to remain a thing of the past:
“I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country,” he added.
With about a third of the world under some form of Covid-19 lockdown, we are all experiencing different forms of social distancing. Turning to technology to stay connected, we humans are social creatures with a need to interact. Physical touches, such as handshakes and high-fives, convey different messages and emotions and are a part — or were a part — of our daily lives.
Most of the world recognises the handshake as the most acceptable way of greeting someone. The handshake, which dates back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece, was done in the name of peace, to show that neither person was carrying a weapon in their hand.
In the Roman era, the handshake was more like an arm grab, where each person grasped each other’s forearms, a way of ascertaining that neither man was armed and did not have a knife up his sleeve.
As to why we shake our clasped hands up and down, some surmise that it began in Mediaeval Europe, when knights would shake hands so that any concealed weapons would fall out.
Variations on the physical greeting include the fist bump, which has grown in popularity and is considered less formal than the handshake, and way more cool. Some people opted to use the fist bump to minimise the spread of germs from person to person, but after Covid-19, even the fist bump may have to die.
So how do we break an age-old tradition? While some may remain stubborn and continue to flout rules, the widespread, devastating effects of a global pandemic like the one we are experiencing may be just the thing to end humanity’s hand-shaking, hand-touching habits. /TISG
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