'Absolutely bonkers': Scientists reveal reaction to Boris Johnson's infamous 'shaking hands' speech at start of pandemic

A Channel 4 Dispatches programme questioned the government's response to the coronavirus crisis. (Picture: PA)

Boris Johnson's handling of the coronavirus crisis has come under fire from scientists, with one labelling his now-infamous speech about shaking hands "absolutely bonkers".

Speaking on Channel 4's Dispatches, Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the SPI-B advisory group —a group of behavioural scientists that provides advice to the government on how the public would respond to lockdown measures — criticised the prime minister's declaration that he was still shaking hands with people at the start of the pandemic.

In a speech at the start of March, Johnson said: "I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands."

Speaking to Dispatches, Prof Reicher said: "I think it was absolutely bonkers."

Fellow SPI-B member Professor Susan Michie, director at the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, added: "I was frankly horrified. It seems very odd for somebody who is in a position of power and a position of influence to be stating something that is so much at odds with, not only common sense, but scientific evidence about transmission."

The programme titled Britain's Coronavirus Catastrophe: Did the Government Get It Wrong?, which aired on Wednesday night, claimed the government had failed in several ways when it came to dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

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In this handout photo provided by Number 10 Downing Street, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs the morning Covid-19 Meeting remotely after self isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus, at 10 Downing Street, London, Saturday, March 28, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street via AP)
ARCHIVO - En esta fotografía del jueves 2 de abril de 2020, el primer ministro británico Boris Johnson aplaude afuera de su casa en el número 11 de Downing Street para elogiar a los héroes locales que combaten el coronavirus, en Londres. (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street vía AP, archivo)
In this image taken from video of the TWITTER/@BorisJohnson, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks from self isolation which he has been in since contracting coronavirus, Friday April 3, 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been admitted to a hospital with the coronavirus. Johnson’s office says he is being admitted for tests because he still has symptoms 10 days after testing positive for the virus. (TWITTER/@BorisJohnson via AP)
In this image taken from video of the TWITTER/@BorisJohnson, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces he has tested positive for the new coronavirus, Friday March 27, 2020. Johnson's office said he was tested after showing mild symptoms and was now self-isolating, but would continue to lead the country's response to COVID-19. (TWITTER/@BorisJohnson via AP)
File photo dated 25/03/2020 of Health Secretary Matt Hancock watching Prime Minister Boris Johnson speak during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, both of them have tested positive for coronavirus.
File photo dated 23/03/2020 of a screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the nation from 10 Downing Street, London. The Prime Minister has said he has tested positive for coronavirus.
File photo dated 20/03/2020 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19), he says he has tested positive for coronavirus.
File photo dated 20/03/2020 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre), Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left) and Dr Jenny Harries (right) speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). The Prime Minister has said he has tested positive for coronavirus.
File photo dated 06/03/20 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Mologic Laboratory in the Bedford technology Park in Bedfordshire, he says he has tested positive for coronavirus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street, London, joining in with a national applause for the NHS to show appreciation for all NHS workers who are helping to fight the Coronavirus.
(EDITOR�S NOTE: Image Archived 25/03/2020) Prime Minister Boris Johnson at one of his daily Downing Street Coronavirus Press Briefings. Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP has tested positive for coronavirus, Downing Street has announced that Mr Johnson has mild symptoms and will self-isolate in Downing Street. He will still be in charge of the government's handling of the crisis, the statement added. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, London, for the House of Commons for Prime Minister's Questions.
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It also included claims from an Italian health minister that Johnson told Italy's prime minister Giuseppe Conte that he "wanted herd immunity" on 13 March.

The programme comes as Johnson faces mounting pressure for the way the government has dealt with the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the PM defended his handling of the crisis in a fractious prime minister's questions session where Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused him of presiding over a government that had lost the "trust and confidence" of the British people.

Johnson defended NHS England's test and trace system, saying "thousands" of contacts of people who had tested positive for coronavirus had been traced but stopped short of giving specific figures.

The PM voiced his displeasure at what he described as "endless attacks" and told MPs: "I take full responsibility for everything this government has been doing in tackling coronavirus and I'm very proud of our record."

Critics say the government is easing lockdown too soon, with schools reopening and those who have been shielding allowed out sooner than expected.

In the Dispatches programme, Pierpaolo Sileri said he had spoken to Italian PM Conte on the phone and he had recounted his phone call with Johnson.

"I remember he said: 'He told me that he wants 'herd immunity'," he told the programme. He added: "I remember that after hanging up, I said to myself that I hope Boris Johnson goes for a lockdown."

Dispatches said while the government had not been interviewed in the programme, it had denied that herd immunity was its strategy.

It shared a statement that said: "We have taken the right steps at the right time to combat [this pandemic]. At every stage, the government has been guided by the advice of experts from SAGE and its sub-committees...

"Our response has ensured that the NHS has capacity for everyone who needs it..."

This article originally appeared on Yahoo
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