Belgians are not going to the cafe more often than when the sector reopened on June 8, but they are shaking hands more often and even kissing each other on meeting.
That’s according to the latest weekly edition of the Major Corona Study carried out by the University of Antwerp respondents fill in a questionnaire online, either once or every week, and the results are collated to create a picture of how life is developing as the lockdown gradually opens up.
Last week, in the first edition after the horeca sector opened up again, three-quarters of people said they had not yet visited a restaurant or cafe. That was only days after the reopening, but the numbers have not changed a week later.
As far as personal greetings are concerned, however, the change has been more substantial. At the same time as the horeca (hotel-restaurant-cafe) opened up, the number of people in each person’s ‘bubble’ was expanded from four to ten.
Last week, 14% of people said they would shake the hand or kiss the cheek of someone outside their own family circle. This week, the number has gone up to 25%.
Interestingly, for people who live alone, the corresponding figures are 19% rising to 29%. Clearly, singletons can be assumed to be more in need of human contact.
The practice, however friendly, is against the advice of the experts. The advisor to US President Trump, Antonio Fauci, has been quoted as saying, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands again”.
Here in Belgium, virologist Professor Marc Van Ranst last week agreed. “He’s right,” he told the VRT. “Not only would it reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses like Covid-19, it would also reduce flu and digestive illnesses.”
Considering the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, he said, the practice should not be difficult to abandon.
“If you don’t shake hands at a meeting now, it’s quite normal. Your hands get everywhere. Raising your hand like they do in Sweden or a hug with someone you know well is much safer, even if you do come closer together. There are far fewer bacteria on other body parts than on your hands.”
The handshake, fortunately, is not an issue the national security council needs to gather over. Neither is it likely to be the subject of legislation, or be successfully outlawed even if it were.
“It’s purely cultural,” said Prof Van Ranst. “The handshake will never become illegal, but it may become obsolete. And actually I hope it does.”
As the latest figures show, however, the possibility seems to be receding.