Government advisers told to stop shaking hands the day Boris Johnson boasted about doing it

PUBLISHED: 13:17 05 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:34 05 May 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street on the government's coronavirus action plan. Photograph: Frank Augstein/PA.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street on the government's coronavirus action plan. Photograph: Frank Augstein/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

Scientific advisers recommended stopping the shaking of hands with others on the day the prime minister boasted he was doing so with “everybody” at a hospital.

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Boris Johnson attempts to shake Phillip Schofield's hand on This Morning. Photograph: ITV.Boris Johnson attempts to shake Phillip Schofield's hand on This Morning. Photograph: ITV.

Newly-released documents of the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), a subcommittee of the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) committee, revealed that the government was advised against shaking hands and hugging on March 3.

“There was agreement that government should advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene,” said the minutes.

“Promoting a replacement greeting or encouraging others to politely decline a proffered hand-shake may have benefit.”

But on the same day the prime minister was boasting about shaking hands.

He told journalists at a Downing Street briefing: “I am shaking hands. I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were coronavirus patients and I was shaking hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.

“People must make up their own minds but I think the scientific evidence is ... our judgment is that washing your hands is the crucial thing.”

It was later clarified that the prime minister had said he had shook hands with NHS workers rather than actual sick patients.

But wo days later the prime minister made a point of shaking hands with Phillip Schofield, even though the presenter kept his hands to his sides when he interviewed him on ITV’s This Morning.


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He was then photographed on March 9 shaking hands with the boxer Anthony Joshua at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey.

Just three weeks after making the remarks Johnson tested positive for coronavirus.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said that Johnson would not have been aware at the time of the SPI-B paper, which did not at that point represent the considered view of SAGE.

“The PM wouldn’t have seen that advice. The PM was very clear at the time, he was taking a number of precautionary steps including frequently washing his hands,” the spokesman said.

“Once the social distancing advice was changed, the prime minister’s approach changed.”

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