The Coronavirus Could Kill Off Handshakes

And we shouldn’t miss them

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

Like many aspects of the modern world, the common handshake is believed to have originated in ancient Greece. The greeting has weathered many a storm throughout history, but could the coronavirus outbreak be its death knell?

As the respiratory virus — called COVID-19 — has spread far and wide across the world from China precautions are being taken. In Italy, for example, the entire country has been put under quarantine, while in the UK one potential plan for containment involves bringing retired NHS workers back into the fold as the virus spreads and people panic buy soap and toilet roll.

The lasting effects of the outbreak are as yet unknown, but already our behaviour is changing — and the handshake could be finally consigned to the past even after the live threat from the virus has died down.

Medical advice from most countries now states to avoid shaking hands, as well as other familial greetings (such as the cheek kissing favoured in France). By the time we’re given the all-clear to shake hands again, will we even want to? Why do we do it anyway? I’ve only ever shaken hands with strangers in a formal setting. I don’t do it with family, friends or work colleagues. Why do I feel obliged, then, to clasp hands with a total stranger (who, in a lot of cases, I won’t see again)? Why do any of us?

Is it just an old custom we persist with just because that’s the way it’s always been done?

Is it something that we can see the back of, now we have a reason to get rid of it?

The coronavirus outbreak is undoubtedly a bad thing and I’m not arguing otherwise. But maybe the changes it will force us into — temporarily at first — aren’t all bad. I won’t miss handshakes. Will you?

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