The NHS hasn’t advised people to stop shaking hands to avoid the Wuhan coronavirus

28 February 2020
What was claimed

The NHS has warned people should not shake hands to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus

Our verdict

This is incorrect. Although some doctors have suggested this may be a good idea, no advice around shaking hands has been issued by the government

This article was correct at the time of publication. While the NHS still does not specifically suggest avoiding handshaking to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, far more widespread 'social distancing' measures are now recommended. You can read more about these here.

This article has been archived as a result. You can find our latest fact checks on the new coronavirus here.

“Ban handshakes to stop coronavirus, NHS warns.”

The Sun, 27 February 2020

A headline in The Sun incorrectly said the NHS has warned people to ban handshakes to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. The government has not issued any official advice on handshaking, although some doctors have suggested avoiding it.

Since we first wrote this article The Sun corrected its headline to clarify that the advice actually came from a doctor rather than the NHS. The article later clarifies the suggestion came up in an interview on BBC Breakfast with GP Dr Rosemary Leonard and Leeds University virologist Stephen Griffin.

A clip of the interview shows Dr Leonard saying: “When we all walked into the BBC this morning, the charming people at the desk were all shaking our hands.

“I know it’s very British and very polite, we probably ought to stop shaking hands.”

She is not the only doctor to have suggested this. The manager of Newcastle United, Steve Bruce, told the BBC that the club has introduced a handshake ban at its training ground to avoid the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus on the advice of a doctor.

And in February, virologist Professor John Oxford from Queen Mary University told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “What we need to do is less of the handshaking, hugging, kissing, that sort of thing, because this virus looks like its spread by ordinary tidal breathing, not necessarily colds and coughing.”

However, Public Health England, which is in charge of giving health advice to the public, has confirmed to us last month that no advice around shaking hands had been issued by the government.

The NHS advice recommends covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve—rather than your hands—when you cough or sneeze and putting used tissues in the bin immediately. It also advises frequent hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds, or hand sanitiser gel if soap and water aren’t available, and avoiding close contact with people who are unwell. Since this article was first published the NHS has added two new pieces of advice to this list, it adds that you should always wash your hands when you get home or into work. It also says to try and avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

The NHS advises against touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean. It does not mention shaking hands.

The government has also launched a public information campaign with advice about the new coronavirus.

Updated NHS guidance says people should stay at home for seven days if they have a high temperature or a new, continuous cough. You should not go to GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. The government has also published new advice about staying at home.

You should only use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service if you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, your condition gets worse or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. The government has asked that people only call 111 if they cannot get help online. You should still call 999 if it is a medical emergency, as you would normally.

Unlike previous guidance, this advice stands regardless of whether or not you have recently visited an affected country.

All the latest government advice relating to Covid-19 can be found here. 

Update 13 March 2020

This article was updated to reflect new advice on Covid-19 and edits The Sun made to its headline.

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