COVID-19: The Death of the Handshake?

Photo by Shuai Y. Edited by Winston Yu.

The handshake has represented friendliness and has been a common greeting for years. It can be traced back to tribal times when people held up their hands to show they were not hiding weapons. Gradually this behaviour has become a habit in many cultures’ interpersonal communication routines.

But the possibility of spreading respiratory illnesses makes shaking hands “dangerous” right now.  

As the spread of COVID-19 has increased around the world, the practice of shaking hands has gradually been abandoned because the virus can be spread through physical contact. People have been told to maintain a minimal physical distance apart of two metres. And the World Health Organization is urging people to change the way they greet each other.

Here are some alternatives to the handshake:

  1. Footshake

    Photo by Shuai Y.

    This greeting first appeared in China. The pose was first known as “Wuhan shake,” after the city where the virus broke out. Now the pose has taken the world by storm. People even let the greeting take on different variations (as seen in this video by BBC).

  2. Elbow Bump

    Photo by Shuai Yuan.

    People greet each other by hitting each other’s elbows. It is also popular now. But some people also worry that the elbow is not so healthy: people often cover their mouths with their elbows when they cough or sneeze. It depends on your lifestyle. In addition, it is best to maintain a distance of two meters between people.

  3. The Thai “Wai”

    Photo by Shuai Y.

    This greeting comes from some Asian countries such as Thailand. When people meet, they can greet each other by putting their hands together and bowing slightly. This approach ensures appropriate distance between people and avoids physical contact.


In fact, this current state of affairs makes people wonder about whether the tradition of “handshake” will fully disappear or not. It is still unknown whether people will continue to greet each other with handshakes after this pandemic is over.

Some people have begun to think that the act of shaking hands is no longer a safe act. To this end, I interviewed a friend in China, Nana Lin, who is a freshman. She said: “Although COVID-19 has been controlled in China it does affect some behaviours in our daily life. We rarely shake hands when we meet. And hug. But I am confident that these traditional etiquettes will be restored in the future.”

Most respiratory diseases can be spread through intimate contact with limbs.  There are other forms of greetings that are being questioned, too: in France people kiss each other’s cheeks to express greetings to each other. ‎Ryan. S, an international student from France, who has lived in France for five years said, “After this, I might consider the rationality of this before kissing others.”

In this ceremonial “disaster,” Asian countries have not been affected much. In Asian cultures, most greetings do not require physical contact. But people still pay attention to the distance between them when they meet each other.

“If we no longer hug and shake hands because of COVID-19, it’s really bad,” said Sun Dian, a WCI student who is in grade 12.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in the United States, is quoted in a recent article in Time magazine: “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.”

Maybe we will have some worries before making these intimate contacts in our later life, but I believe that friendly greetings in society will never disappear. The etiquette that people have formed for thousands of years will not be destroyed by a virus.