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Coronavirus: Sorry, No Hugs for Now!

Coronavirus has broken all the norms. From our daily routine, gestures, diet, movements and how we express our affection towards other. This week England has lifted the lockdown guidelines. Moreover, groups of up to six can meet in an outdoor space as long as they stay two meters apart. Workers are back to their track but limited public transportation is being utilized.

 The director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine in Oxford, Prof Carl Heneghan says: “We can’t stay in lockdown forever. It’s too easy to make this about one disease. You’ve got to look at the wide spectrum of health issues, the backlog of other [medical] appointments, and the impact of more austerity on people’s lives, the closure of schools and the effect on educational attainment, which we know is linked to health outcomes.” 

Others might dissent the lockdown guidelines and might misunderstood understand how effective lockdown has been but executing the social distancing is really a big help to avoid transmission.

Hence, lifting the major guidelines of lockdown does not connote that we are going to neglect the minor ones. Heneghan points out: “There was a 50% drop in acute respiratory infection in the week before lockdown, so social distancing and handwashing were having a significant impact.”

Indeed, judgment, common sense, good faith and, most of all, manners are going to be doing a hell of a lot of heavy lifting. So what advice do the etiquette experts could offer?

But how can you call a tea party with just six people on it?

William Hanson, an etiquette coach and host of the podcast Help I Sexted My Boss, was born to answer this question. “There was an awful tendency, before all this, to respond to an invitation with: ‘Who else is going to be there?’” (This implies you are checking that it will be cool enough, and is beyond rude.) “Now it is permissible, even healthy, to ask that. But you may still want to disguise the question, so if you’re bringing a cake or a homemade cordial, say: ‘Let me know how many it will be for.’”

Debora Robertson, the co-author of Manners: A Modern Field Guide (out next spring), says: “It’s your job to express clearly what you need in a social situation, so just say: ‘I’m not ready yet for that.’” After that, it’s all in the tone and the intention. “If it’s not your intention to make people feel like they’re reckless or stupid, then that won’t come across in your tone.” 

Also, Adam Collins, a doctor of emergency medicine, says: “If everything is washed and cleans, and everyone, while they’re there, has their own individual set of plates and cups, that should be fine.” . If we will reiterate, if you explain yourself to make an invisible boundary, your friend will accept that even if they think you are extremely cautious, you’re just doing it for everyone’s sake.

If you’re happy for people to use your loo, Hanson says: “I would, as a host, put Dettol wipes out. I would hope that people got what I was trying to imply.” As a guest, you don’t then need to be sheepish about having cleaned the toilet, because they in effect told you to do that. I know. This is all getting pretty intense. 

But hey, having a party after a long lockdown, how long should you stay to have a decent drink?

According to Mather, absolutely not as long as you would normally. The longer you are there, the more some of you will drink, the less observant of social distancing you will become, the more of an awkward spot you will put anxious friends and relatives in. It’s not a four-hour gig. It would be polite, as a host, to set the terms – shall we have a drink between six and seven? – “And if it gets to seven and people are still chatting,” Mather says, “you can push it to half past seven.” How do you make people leave, though? This bit is easy, apparently. “You stand up,” Mather says authoritatively. “Everyone should take that hint.”

How about sharing barbeques?

Sharing is love but for now, we have to keep our food to ourselves. Breaking the rules seems fun but its better to be safe than to be sorry, right? At a whole population level, public health agencies are trying to discourage people from dine-in and sharing food is big no,no.

Should you grass on friends if you know they are breaking the rules?

Hanson says: “If it’s a serious breach that is breaking the rules, then fine. But be prepared, if it becomes known who reported them, that is a serious breach of friendship and you probably won’t be friends with them going forward.” Robertson is more trenchant: “We’ve all got to stop the grassing-up thing. It came too easily to some people.” I think, from both a moral and manners perspective, no. 

How about friends who aren’t calling you yet? Are you still friends?

It’s really up to you, but don’t leave things because you feel embarrassed or awkward. Robertson says: “Phone them up, or email, or send a postcard to re-establish connection. Just be normal, don’t be weird.”

Always keep in mind that we are dealing a nationwide and worldwide pandemic and everyone is going through hardships to prevent from breathing this virus. “There’s this brilliant story in the Duchess of Devonshire’s autobiography,” Robertson says. “She’s upstairs on her wedding day, and she’s waiting to come down, and 85 million people are waiting to see her. And she says to her mother: ‘I feel a bit shy.’ And her mother says: “Don’t be ridiculous, nobody’s looking at you.’” I mean, it is brilliant. But mothers are also weird. 

How do you tell a friend that they are too close without being sound rude?

 “You have got to step in and say: ‘It’s two meters, I’d appreciate if you would respect that.’ I wouldn’t say sorry, necessarily. Keep it short. If you soften it too much, it will weaken the impact. I know some of my friends probably would transgress, and I just won’t meet up with them until this is over.”

Schools are re-open, can the kids play?

Heneghan counsels strongly against this. “There’s been a lack of thinking about our younger generation, right across the board up to university age. They are at such low risk, them going back to school is no more risky than it is after Christmas, when there’s been an outbreak of influenza.” Education is vital but at these times we have to guide our children without looking terrifying for them. 

Can you get into a car with a friend?

Heneghan says: “I got into a car with a person on Saturday. I’m also an urgent care GP, he had to drive me around. The important point here is that we’ve come through an era where, if you’re ill, you take a paracetamol and carry on. That has to end. The important alertness is that if you feel unwell, you have to take it seriously and get yourself a test.”

Collins gives something close to a definitive answer on this, and all things: “What people should focus on is not: ‘Can I do this specific thing?’ It’s: ‘What am I doing here that is genuinely beneficial or genuinely necessary?’ Lockdown is driving us all a little bit crazy and it affects some people’s mental health in really serious ways.” It’s really not as simple as: “Responsible people stay locked down for ever” and very few rules are absolute. “You have to ask yourself, honestly, whether you’re doing everything you can to protect yourself and protect others.”

Who can I hug?

Sad thing is, we cannot easily hug our loved ones that we usually do. Well, safety is more essential. They will understand, don’t worry. During this pandemic, we have to be more critical on our own personal guidelines in practicing the social distancing. 

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