NEWS
13/02/2020 12:00 PM AEDT | Updated 13/02/2020 12:03 PM AEDT

Stop Shaking Hands And Kissing People To Beat Coronavirus, Says Virology Professor

John Oxford also dismissed the common provision of people wearing masks as a “total diversion”.

A virology expert has suggested that people stop hugging each other as concerns heighten around coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading.

John Oxford, an emeritus professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London, said he is not expecting a vaccine to combat the outbreak for “months and months”. 

Speaking to Today on BBC Radio 4, he also dismissed the common provision of people wearing masks as a “total diversion”.

“What we need to do is less of the hand-shaking, hugging, kissing and all that sort of a thing because this virus looks like it’s spread by ordinary tidal breathing, not necessarily sneezing and coughing,” he said.

 Oxford said he has studied both the coronavirus and SARS, describing them as “little people” with weaknesses.

“I think this virus has a weakness; it loves us to be close together,” he said. “It’s a social virus; it rather hates it in England compared to China, I would think, because we’re so stand-offish.

“We have to govern ourselves in our social actions, how we interact with people, and I think that’s extremely important.”

On the other hand, Neil Ferguson, director of MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, appeared on the show and cast doubt on Oxford’s suggestions.

“I think the measures John talked about may have some potential to slow spread down, move us out of the winter flu season, release NHS pressures a bit, but I think it’s highly unlikely we will stop transmission of the virus,” he said.

Ferguson said it is not known for certain that the virus is being spread locally in the UK as cases are only being detected in travellers – people who were infected overseas.

uchar via Getty Images
Prof. John Oxford has suggested we should hold back on the handshakes. 

With surveillance of pneumonia cases underway in UK hospitals, he said a clearer indication of how, and if, the virus is being spread will be known in “a few weeks”.

In the meantime, scaling back on physical contact won’t necessarily be effective in combating coronavirus, Ferguson suggested.

“I think we’re in the early phases of a global pandemic at the moment. The fact we’ve only reported eight cases in this country is just because again our surveillance is focused on travellers. We think probably we’re picking up maybe one in three cases coming into the country at the current time,” he said.