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Saturday, Jul 24, 2021

‘The only thing we have to fear’: Shunning handshakes amid coronavirus outbreak means panic & hysteria have won

Is it possible to err so much on the side of caution that people begin to look overly paranoid, even ridiculous? It seems the hysteria over coronavirus may be taking the precautions a little too far.
In the 1999 cult film Fight Club, the narrator, played by Edward Norton, casually remarks that “on a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” That formula seems appropriate for understanding where we are in relation to the coronavirus: if we remain patient long enough, we too will succumb to the latest contagion that threatens to wipe out mankind in one swift (warning: sickening imagery ahead) snot-filled tsunami.

For the unconvinced, a quick glance at the apocalyptic headlines from Monday’s Drudge Report – where even a coughing Pope Francis was hyped as a possible statistic – were enough to make diehard skeptics set the snooze button and stay in bed until sometime next year. While it is of course logical to take preventive measures against any contagion, many people have already tossed in the towel and declared the coronavirus victorious.

Consider, for example, the suggestions being put forward by the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in Singapore in its ‘handshake alternatives’ guide. The cheerfully illustrated brochure offers hip new ways of greeting those living, breathing germ factories known as humans that we must interact with on a daily basis. In these plague-ridden days, engaging in a hearty, warm-blooded handshake, as has been the tradition throughout the centuries, is on the verge of becoming a negative fashion statement. In its place, people are being advised to perform awkward animal gestures, like the “elbow tap,” the impossible “foot shake,” and the fully detached “wave.”

Now try and imagine corporate executives, after securing a major contract, playing footsie with each other instead of exchanging handshakes, the ultimate signal of trust and integrity. Or burly footballers doing elbow bumps after a game. Or mindlessly waving to a friend whom we 'bump into' on the street. It just doesn’t work. Yes, I get it, desperate times call for desperate measures, and all that. But have we really reached the point in our battle against coronavirus when greeting our fellow human beings with a time-honored handshake, or a more chic peck on the cheek, has become verboten? Personally, I don't think so. After all, it is possible to be equally paranoid about any number of other daily interactions.

For example, we could reduce the risk of suffering injury or even death in a car crash by exactly 100 percent if we never enter an automobile; we could totally eliminate the chances of dying in a plane crash by never visiting remote lands; we could reduce to zero the chances of breaking a leg on the ski slopes by avoiding snow-covered mountains. None of those precautionary measures, however, will protect us from getting hit by a bolt of lightning, but I digress

In other words, we are more at risk of becoming the victims of our fear than any coronavirus. Let’s not forget that the overwhelming majority of people who contract the disease do not succumb to the illness. In other words, acquiring coronavirus, which should not be on any person’s to-do list, is not the death sentence that the media has portrayed it to be.

So while other people can sign up for the latest anti-shaking craze, I will continue shaking hands with my fellow man so long as he or she has no objections. Once we hoist up the white flag of fear and hysteria, the annoying bugs will have won not by stealing our lives, which could happen from a million other things, but by depriving us of the simple manners and traditions that make us all human after all.

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