You Don't Need To Stop Shaking Hands, But Here's What You Can Do Instead
Australia's chief medical officer has contradicted coronavirus advice from NSW's health minister, shooting down suggestions people should avoid shaking hands because of virus transmission fears.
NSW health minister Brad Hazzard told a Monday press conference: "It's time for us to cease the handshaking", as he confirmed Australia's first case of community transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
"It's a very Australian thing to do, to put your hand out and shake hands... I would be suggesting... it is time Aussies actually gave each other a pat on the back for the time being," he said.
"No handshaking, it is not necessary at a time when we have a virus that appears to be reasonably active in its endeavours."
But Australia's chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, distanced himself from such advice when asked about it at a press conference on Tuesday, saying only those who have returned from coronavirus outbreak hotspots should follow that course of action.
"If you have come back from South Korea or Italy or Iran, then we would certainly want you to practise some social distancing, not go to mass gatherings, and in that context, shaking hands," Murphy said.
"We are not suggesting those practices should be considered by the broader general community."
Hazzard also recommended people "exercise care and caution" when kissing, and said people should avoid touching their faces.
10 daily has contacted the NSW health department for further clarification and information about whether people should avoid handshakes, fist bumps, high-fives or other forms of hand-to-hand contact.
The Queensland health department has confirmed it has not issued advice about handshakes, and the health departments of Victoria and South Australia have been contacted for comment.
Associate professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, an expert in health security at the University of Sydney, said people at this stage shouldn't fear contracting the virus from public places -- like hand rails or door handles.
"Handshakes are a means for viruses to transmit between people, but that can be mitigated through regular hand washing. Regular hand washing is one of the most important messages to get across to people," he told 10 daily.
"As much as this virus is spread through droplet form, like coughing or sneezing, if you cough into your hand and then shake hands, that's how it can spread. But if you're infected, just because you shake hands, it's not likely to lead to co-infection."
Kamradt-Scott said it was "highly unlikely" the COVID-19 virus could survive for long outside the body in current Australian weather conditions, but influenza-type viruses could survive for up to 72 hours outside, in colder and moister conditions.
"If you've washed your hands regularly, you won't get the virus just from shaking hands," he said.
"It's primarily spread through droplet form. It's not airborne in the way horror movies show. Someone would have to cough or sneeze in your presence, into their hand, then touch a door handle or something that you touch, then you bring your hand to your face."
Kamradt-Scott said people should focus more on three easy things, rather than worrying about contracting coronavirus in public:
- washing hands regularly -- he said simple soap and water was "more than sufficient"
- cough and sneeze etiquette -- directing that into your elbows and covering your mouth, instead of into your hands
- avoiding people who are visibly unwell
He said those three simple steps could greatly reduce personal exposure risk, and urged the public to remain calm, despite rising concern over coronavirus. He also called the widespread "panic buying" of stock at supermarkets "unhelpful and unproductive".
"We don't have that evidence of widespread community transmission. There's a fine balance to strike, we want people to go about daily lives unimpeded and without panicking," Kamradt-Scott said.
"Retailers associations are saying there are large stocks of products in distribution centres, so there's no need to rush out and stockpile food. That just creates a different type of problem, which can actually have more of a long-term negative impact."
He said health officials would push out widespread public advertising and awareness campaigns if advice changed, and people needed to be concerned about touching surfaces in public or avoiding large gatherings.