As containing COVID-19 becomes a reality across Europe, countries are taking extreme measures to minimize infection.
The French health minister has asked people to avoid handshakes and kiss greetings. The government has also closed many schools, banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces and asked citizens to wash their hands thoroughly – but it is perhaps the advice to avoid handshakes, hugs and kisses that is the biggest culture shock.
The effects of COVID-19 go beyond national culture into religious practice. In churches, the fear of contagion has overruled the ritualistic handshake in the name of peace between worshipers – and in the ceremony of the holy communion, hand-to-mouth is now frowned upon.
Europeans are left confused about where the line is between reasonable precaution and panic, even if the case for avoiding direct contact with other people is legitimate.