Boris Johnson made handshake boast on day of scientific warning

Scientists advising the government warned that physical greetings should be discouraged on the day Boris Johnson boasted that he was continuing to shake people’s hands, newly-published documents have revealed.

A paper submitted to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on 3 March suggested the government “advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene”. On the same day, the Prime Minister told a press conference that during a recent visit to a hospital, “I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.”

A Downing Street spokesman said the paper was part of Sage’s process for formulating advice, and did not amount to guidance against hand shaking. The spokesman added that Mr Johnson would not have been aware of the paper when he made his comment.

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The Prime Minister was also seen shaking boxer Anthony Joshua’s hand at an event on 9 March. Dozens of pages of evidence submitted to Sage in March and April were published by the government yesterday following pressure to make the process of formulating official scientific advice more transparent.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London. Picture: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire
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However, the material released was a fraction of the evidence examined by Sage, with the majority withheld or redacted because it is still being actively considered.

The papers reveal behavioural scientists advised using “hard-hitting emotional messaging” to build support as lockdown measures were announced on 23 March.

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Experts have also warned that the use of antibody testing could see employers “actively discriminate” against workers who were not shown to have coronavirus immunity.

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