Handshakes may not return for a long time, infection control nurse warns

It could take a long time before shaking hands becomes common place again, an infection control specialist has said.

The traditional greeting was one of the first aspects of normal life to be discouraged as the coronavirus pandemic took hold earlier this year.

Infection control nurse Colin Clarke also said he anticipates significant changes in life after Covid-19, and potentially new ways of delivering health care, such as virtual clinics.

Coronavirus – Tue May 5, 2020
From left, infection control nurse Annette O’Hara, clinical sister Siobhan Donnelly, and infection control nurse Colin Clarke in the intensive care ward at Craigavon Area Hospital in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

“I think there are lots of different avenues that we now have to explore in a post-pandemic phase in terms of how we work and how we do things differently and that will probably infiltrate in all parts of life, including hospital care and how we deliver health and social services,” he said.

“I think the greeting aspect in terms of touch and the handshake will take a long time to come back, I anticipate, because people will not have the confidence and there will be probably be a fear factor.

“It highlights very clearly how a virus, which can be potentially fatal, can be transmitted in the most basic of ways through touch, sneezing and coughing.

Coronavirus – Tue May 5, 2020
A general view of Covid-19 signage at the entrance to Craigavon Area Hospital (Niall Carson/PA)

“It is an opportunity to revisit the whole idea of good cough etiquette which really is the basics of good public hygiene.

“Covid-19 experience has certainly highlighted to the public at large that message we have been trying to get across for a long, long time.”

Mr Clarke, the lead nurse for infection prevention and control for the Southern Health Trust in Northern Ireland, has been nursing for more than 30 years.

“A pandemic is something I never ever thought I would have to face, the challenge has been significant,” he said.

Coronavirus – Tue May 5, 2020
Catering staff, from left, Kayleigh Timms, Caroline Porter, Carmel Lennon and Tanya White at Craigavon (Niall Carson/PA)

“Covid-19 has no barriers and we’re very aware of that, so we have been continually communicating with colleagues in other parts of the world, looking forward to the potential of relaxation of the lockdown eventually.

“A lot of it is learning on the hoof, learning from others. There is probably no absolute right model to follow and that makes it a great challenge.”

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