Person-to-person touch is a norm that demonstrates social cohesion and love among society.
Indeed, it is a sign of recognition and acknowledgement of one another and includes gestures such as handshakes (typically with a thumb snap among young males in Ghana), hugs, patting on the back, shoulder or arm touch or kissing on the cheek (a common practice in Europe).
However, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted on these social norms. As of November 24, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recorded more than 58 million cases and over 1.3 million deaths worldwide; and in Ghana, almost 51,000 cases and 323 deaths had been recorded.
The COVID-19 virus is spread from person to person if the virus is carried though droplets from coughing or sneezing. The virus can be transmitted to another person’s nose by direct deposits of the droplet on the face, or touching of the face with infected body parts, usually the hand.
To control this huge burden of COVID-19, several restrictions and control measures have been put in place that affect our social norms of greeting.
This includes regular thorough hand washing with soap under running water, cleansing of hands with alcohol-based sanitisers and avoiding contact with one’s face.
The practice of social distancing that requires a minimum distance of at least six feet (or two arms’ length) from one another can significantly reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. To prevent the spread of the virus, the use of a face mask is mandatory in Ghana. These control measures have to be strictly adhered to, to prevent being infected with COVID-19.
The ‘Corona greeting’ is a popular term used in these times of the pandemic, that refers to other ways of greetings adopted by people to replace the banned handshake.
This includes Wuhan shake that is foot-to-foot touch adopted by the Chinese population at the start of the pandemic.
In Ghana, people have adopted an elbow shake or a fist shake. However, the elbow or fist bump may be a potential source of infection. The elbow bump involves touching the elbow of one another. Sometimes, this action extends to touching the back of the arm.
First, the elbow and upper arm are areas where people cough into (with or without a mask) as a way of preventing coughing into their palms or directly into the air.
Second, this area of the elbow is hardly washed during the handwashing process.
Third, the motion of an elbow shake puts one less than six feet away from another, thus breaching the social distance recommendation and enhancing the risk of COVID-19 infection.
In a study by scientists prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the elbow area was found to be a safer area of touch compared to a handshake, but this area was not totally safe.
Indeed, for COVID-19 infection, little is known about the safety of the elbow shake. The elbow shake is, therefore, not a good idea.
The fist bump is the act of touching one another at the fist of a hand. Among scientists, this approach is also safer than a handshake in terms of spreading viruses, but like the elbow bump, little is known about its safety in the spread of COVID-19.
However, the fist bump is a potential source of spreading COVID-19. The back of the palm of one’s hand is usually rubbed within the palm of the other hand, making the contact point of the fist bump potentially contaminated. This, therefore, makes the fist bump a bad idea.
There are other ‘Corona greetings’ that can be adopted while maintaining all the control measures but ensuring the essence of greetings.
These include a happy wave, a gentle bow, a thumps up or a ‘namaste’ (a gentle bow with crossed hands on the chest).
Greeting gestures are enhanced by facial expressions that are now likely to be obscured by a face mask, but until the pandemic is over, appropriate ‘Corona greetings’ with kind words are most appropriate.
The writer is the Director of the Kintampo Health Research Centre (KHRC).