Assyrian king and Marduk-zakir-šumi I of Babylon shaking hands


Coronavirus pandemic has forced us to change many of our habits. People everywhere have become hygiene-aware and are more careful about what they touch. Right from the beginning of the spread of the now pandemic Covid-19, hand washing instructions, songs and memes mushroomed in every channel of the social media. Today hardly any two people shake hands when they meet. 

Fear of being touched, called "Haphephobia" is a rare, but crippling anxiety disorder known to psychologists and psychiatrists. Now that this fear of touch and proximity has become commonplace due to the spread of infection; one question sociologists are pondering, is that how much of this behaviour will persist after the pandemic is over. Here are a few everyday behaviours which could change forever. 


Indians have traditionally used Namaste greeting

Shaking hands, hugs and touching cheeks 

While performing a handshake goes back to ancient history, the reason and origin of it are not known. One of the oldest depictions of the handshake is from a ninth-century B.C. relief, which shows the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III shaking hands with a Babylonian ruler to seal an alliance. There are different theories on the logic behind a handshake; such as gesturing that the person is not carrying a weapon and has peaceful intentions or symbolising a sacred bond and good faith. 

A handshake was often a symbol of loyalty and friendship in ancient Rome and some roman coins depicted clasped hands. Some historians believe that the handshake as a common way of greeting was popularised by Quakers in the 17th century. Quakers, a semi-religious society founded in England by George Fox believed in friendship and equality, and they saw a handshake as a more egalitarian alternative to bowing or tipping a hat. 

Touching noses, cheeks or kisses on the cheeks have been common in other cultures besides or instead of the handshake. 

So it remains to be seen whether touch-less modes of greeting, like the Far Eastern bow, the Middle Eastern putting the right hand on the heart or the Indian Namaste will replace the handshake in the post-pandemic world. 

Touch does, however, have its advantages. While harmful and highly contagious bacteria and viruses are devastating, they are also rare. The majority of bacteria on our skin, mucous membrane and inside our guts are the useful, so-called flora which protects us from the harmful pathogens. Bacteria in our guts help us digest food and even regulate our hormones and bodily functions. Touch and kiss have been the main routs of transferring these bacteria from mother to baby and from adult to another. Scientists have recently discovered that the mother's milk includes nutrients which cannot be used by the baby and are only intended to feed the bacteria in the baby's guts. 

Greetings which include touch, also decrease social anxiety and lubricate human interactions. So, no-touch salutations may not be purely advantageous. 


Slot machines are turned off to prevent virus transmission

Slot machines 

Even before the closure of schools, restriction of public gathering and stay at home orders came to effect, one of the first noticeable changes was the shutting down of slot machines in casinos and public places. Viekkaus, the gambling monopoly of Finland has around 21500 slot machines in the country, 18 500 of which are in other than Veikkaus's Own casinos, such as kiosks, bars and supermarkets. These mainly coin-operated machines are in constant use by people visiting shops and public places. 

The slot machines, which require constant touching of the buttons for functioning, are used by numerous people every day. It is not clear how often the devices were cleaned. 

Veikkaus announced on 13 March that it is closing all slot machines and casino's to prevent the risk of contamination and spread of the new Coronavirus. 

Each machine on average brings in 30 000 euros a year, amounting to around 700 million euros. So the loss from all machines being turned off for a year would be 58 million euros. On question is of course, where does that 55 million go? Do clients use that amount to play in registration free online casinos, or save it for other purposes? 

While there are no studies on Finnish players, there is evidence that online gambling has dramatically increased during the Covid-19 crisis. A joint research by Australian credit bureau Illion and analytics firm AlphaBeta has revealed a 67% increase in online gambling in the past week alone following the recent shutdown of all non-essential services due to COVID-19. A similar trend was seen in the U.S., where a 43% increase in the use of online poker sites, and a 255% increase in first-time players was noticed since social distancing and lockdowns took effect. Some countries such as Latvia have even banned online gambling until 14 April. 


Cash and pin codes and elevator buttons 

Cash, both coins and bills, have been studied often for traces of germs, toxins, drugs and even faeces. A study of circulating $1 bills in New York city found all kinds of human and animal cells, more than a hundred different strains of bacteria, viruses and faecal matter on the banknotes. Studies show that paper-based bills can harbour influenza viruses for up to 17 days and could even be a suitable ground for bacteria to grow. 

Ancient coins were minted using gold, silver or copper, which are all-natural antibacterial metals and thus were much safer to handle than the modern coins. While pennies and quarters are mainly composed of zinc, Euro coins have a 89% copper and maybe antibacterial to a certain degree. Ironically, also paying by credit cards still requires the use of pin codes in most places. That means hundreds of shoppers touch the same numeric buttons when they pay. Completely touch-less modes of payment such as Apple Pay are the best ways of avoiding transfer of germs, but these methods are not yet widespread. 

Another spot which has been proven to have one of the highest concentration of germs is the elevator button, which is touched by numerous people each day. Shopping carts, escalators, door nubs, and public transport poles and buttons are other spots which can have a high concentration of viruses and bacteria. 

Prayer wheels are usually turned by people; touching the same surfaces one after each other


Religious gatherings and pilgrimages 

While less common in developed countries, people in more traditional and religious countries touch and kiss sacred objects, monuments and sanctuaries en masse. These people often believe that these icons or shrines have healing properties and powers, so the idea of same objects spreading germs is not easy for them to comprehend. Traditionally many of these shrines have their surfaces gold- or silver-leafed, but the antibacterial effects of these metals are not immediate, and germs could transfer from one person to another if they touch and kiss the surface in succession. 

Many of these pilgrimage places and temples have now been shut down due to the pandemic. Time will show if there will be a permanent change in these traditions after the outbreak is over.