In Beijing, the capital of the country where the outbreak began, red hoardings tell people not to shake hands but to join their own hands together in a sign of greeting. Loudspeakers tell people to make the traditional gong shou gesture a fist in the opposite palm to say hello.
Newspapers have been filled with advice on how to replace kissing on the cheek an everyday greeting in France, even between people who have only just met and handshaking, a common formality at work.
Brazil’s health ministry has recommended that citizens not share metal straws used to consume the caffeine-rich South American drink mate, also known as chimarrao. Meanwhile a kiss even if not on the mouth is totally advised against as a greeting.
In a sign of the times, Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer rebuffed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempt to shake hands with him on Monday, smiling and keeping both his hands to himself.
They both laughed and Merkel threw her hand up in the air before taking a seat.
The outbreak could hit one of Spain’s most cherished traditions — the kissing of sculptures of the Virgin Mary in the week leading up to Easter. With just a month to go before the week starts, the ritual could be banned. “It is one of the measures that is on the table,” said national health official Fernando Simon. During the holy week, the faithful queue up to kiss the hands or feet of sculptures of Mary and the saints, seeking their protection.
Romania’s Martisor festival marks the beginning of spring when talismanic strings and flowers are handed out, often from men to women. But the government has passed on a message to people urging them to hand over the flowers and talismans without the accompanying kiss. “Let’s give the flowers but not the kiss,” said Nelu Tataru, state secretary at the health ministry.
In Poland, one of Europe’s most Catholic countries, the faithful are allowed to take “spiritual communion” instead of consuming the communal bread — or it can be taken in the hands rather than the mouth.