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Namaste: A safeguard against coronavirus?

Indian couple spending time together, exchanging the Namaste greeting. Illustration.
Image credit: rawpixel / 123rf

India may be curbing exports of pharmaceutical products due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. However, it may make a different export with potential public health benefits: the traditional greeting of Namaste

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, has urged citizens of his country to forego handshakes and instead greet each other with Namaste or other greetings which omit skin contact to prevent the spread of the virus. COVID-19 has infected tens of thousands worldwide and caused thousands of deaths. 

Giving advice to Israelis on how to curb person-to-person transmission of the virus, Netanyahu said “just avoid shaking hands as I do. You can try to implement the Indian system of Namaste or say another word like shalom, but find a way, any way of not shaking hands.” 

Similar advice was issued by Prakash Javdekar, the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting and of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change. “Greet people by not shaking hands but by Indian Namaste,” he said. The Minister went on to add that “fear has gripped the world because of coronavirus. But let us not panic. But we have to be cautious. And simple preventive steps will protect you.” 

In the United States, former Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr Tom Friedan also advocated Namaste. “Let’s stop shaking hands for a while,” he said. “I prefer the traditional Southeast Asian hands-together Namaste greeting, although the elbow bump is fun,”

The practice of shaking hands is falling out of favour against the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak, as numerous countries issue advisories suggesting that social bodily contact should be avoided due to the virus. Other gestures are taking the place of the handshake, such as elbow bumps and the ‘footshake’ – a practice that has even been adopted by political leaders. Namaste is another alternative form of greeting and contact that is taking the handshake’s place. 

In India, cases of COVID-19 have multiplied in the past week with Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally monitoring the situation. In a tweet, the Prime Minister urged calm and said “there is no need to panic. We need to work together, take small yet important measures to ensure self-protection.” He attached an infographic listing means of minimising the risk of transmission

“Wash your hands frequently; maintain social distancing; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; practice respiratory hygiene by covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze; if you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care at the earliest; stay informed and follow the advice given by your healthcare provider.”

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