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No kisses and handshakes, declaration needed

Last March 11 at 10 AM in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, I witnessed an irresponsible act, which at other times would have been normal or even impolite not to do so in France. On the bus for work, a middle-aged man showed his monthly ticket to the driver, leaned to the woman sitting on the front and gave her two kisses on the cheek. (In France, depending where you are, kisses can be two, three or four). That same day, I heard on the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then there have been measures to combat its spread, such as lockdown, quarantine, testing, self-isolation and social distancing.

A week before the mandatory social distancing, business premises where I worked had already “no handshake” signs. If handshake was discouraged, obviously “kisses” too. It’s so obvious that they didn’t think there would be a need for “no kisses” signs, but there should have been because, pre-coronavirus pandemic, kissing was a form of greeting in many European workplaces, particularly in France.

We’ve all experienced the “accidental” handshakes, hugs or cheek kisses during these times of the coronavirus. Politicians, such as the US President Donald Trump, were seen shaking hands with several people during their press conferences and hospital visits. Mr Trump was reported to have said, “People come up to me, they shake hands, they put their hand out. It’s sort of a natural reflex, and we’re all getting out of it. All of us have that problem.” (see ''How the new coronavirus could change our behaviour'' on Euronews). There’s no excuse for social irresponsibility.

You have heard a lot how this virus originated in Wuhan, China last December, its victims, preventive measures, challenges for governments and health practitioners, etc… We have been advised to sanitise as often as possible, especially after touching money bills, guard or hand rails or light switches or lift buttons or anything that is touched by others in public places; no wonder supermarket and pharmacy shelves are still devoid of these products. Even alcohol bottles aren’t easy to find. We’re discouraged from stockpiling, but I bought enough supply of vinegar to last us for a year. There is ample advice online on how to make the most of our time at home, from having a fitness routine to reading a book. I have opted to write a novel, and I am halfway through it . In France, we’ve to carry a declaration when we go out; the on-the-spot fine is 200 euros per violation.

Due to social distancing, almost all public gatherings have been cancelled. Why are elections being held during this pandemic? Why haven’t these been postponed? The March 15 city mayoral election in France was odd and a bit entertaining. Citizens had to hand sanitise before and after voting, then volunteers disinfected every pen used; there was a television crew filming them. Australia and the USA also had elections last March.

At home, space distancing (recommended 1.5 M) wasn’t easy, so we’d imposed time distancing instead. We ate at different times; after a while, however, we decided to space out the chairs and have meals together. This pandemic has changed our individual habits, cultural ways, travel decisions, holiday preferences, etc.

My students found elbow or/and foot bumping fun as a replacement for handshake. I wonder if they’ll continue to do this when we resume classes (I don’t know when!). The majority of language teachers for adults are freelancers, i.e. they get paid when they work. So, you can imagine what this pandemic has done to our livelihood and the financial burden it has caused us.

Even in this gloomy situation, let’s practise patience, creativity, compassion, altruism across space and time. Even with time and social distances, we can still reach out, help and support each other in coping with all sorts of difficulties.

If you fancy contributing to coronavirus research without leaving your home, read the March 27, 2020 issue of The Conversation (cf ''Citizen science: how you can contribute to coronavirus research without leaving the house''. If you have a special skill, give lessons free of charge, e.g., meditation, yoga, music, cooking, gymnastic, aerobics and sewing via Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime.

Call, text or email relatives and friends regularly to show that you care for them. According to Dr C Singer,

“human beings are social animals and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive in collaborative networks of people. Some studies suggest that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking”.

If you want to know more, check his and his colleagues’ research findings regarding the health effects of social isolation and loneliness in ''Health Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness'' published by the Journal of AGING (;fe CARE.

Let’s stay safe, healthy, patient, considerate, optimistic and responsible. We’re all in the same boat! Worldwide statistics on infections and deaths continue to rise. (COVID-19 death rate in countries with confirmed deaths and over 1,000 reported cases as of March 31, 2020 by country).

Take care.

(This article also appears in my website Rolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com)

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