Never before has public and private life in the UK been so restricted, with the coronavirus lockdown keeping families apart and some individuals completely isolated for what has now been 12 weeks.
On Wednesday 10 June, Boris Johnson announced that isolated individuals may now visit with loved ones by forming a social bubble with one other household, giving way to many emotional reunions across the country.
One expert has now suggested that, during these reunions, the much-missed act of hugging could be recommended over other forms of physical contact.
Dr Marc Van Ranst, an epidemiologist at the KU Leuven University in Belgium, has claimed that when lockdown eases, hugging each other will be “safer than shaking hands”.
Hug only those you have ‘an affinity with’
Belgium has recently relaxed its lockdown measures, allowing people to meet with up to 10 people.
Speaking about this shift in lockdown rules in his country, Dr Van Ranst said, “As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to hold each other. More skin to skin contact increases the risk of transferring the virus.
“A handshake remains difficult, hands come into contact with each other and with the environment, which increases the chance of the spread.”
“Shaking everyone’s hand at the conference table, you cannot do that anymore, but I do not recommend replacing that with a hug. Keep the hug for the people you have an affinity with.”
‘Elbow bumps are the replacement’
However, some have criticised Dr Van Ranst’s claims, advising that people remain an appropriate distance apart from others.
Jane Greatorex, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, said, “Dr Van Ranst was careful to point out that he was not suggesting hugs should replace handshakes at meetings - where, if they are there in person, a hand wave or elbow bumps are the replacement.
“If people are observing strict hand hygiene then hands should not be transmitting virus and constant hand washing is one of the best methods for controlling transmission.
“On the other hand, a long hug with someone who might be asymptomatic but shedding is risky and best avoided at present.
“There is the potential for respiratory transmission and surface transmission too. It’s hard to assess relative risks but neither are advisable.”