The custom of shaking hands should be ditched permanently and Britain should move to a Japanese-style greeting culture to avoid future pandemics, public health experts have suggested.

Baron Piot, a professor and microbiologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told peers at the science and technology select committee that individual behaviour needed to change for the benefit of the wider community.

He also suggested that face masks and social distancing could become the norm to prevent other respiratory diseases – such as colds and flu – and said there was emerging evidence in Australia that coronavirus measures had also prevented the spread of other communicable diseases.

“Shaking hands is probably out forever,” he told peers. “Using face masks when you have a common cold should be the norm. Look at Australia – there has been a major decrease of incidence of influenza and all kinds of respiratory infections, most likely because of all the measures of social distancing.

“Many of the cultural behaviours in other countries may have been determined by the need to avoid epidemics, that might have been the origin of not shaking hands. We’re talking about a long-term view.”

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