Welcome to Declassified, a weekly column looking at the lighter side of politics.
Don’t panic! Don’t panic! No, sorry. Panic! Panic!
Yes, the coronavirus outbreak has reached the highest warning level of all: Code Dread (or When European Politicians Can’t Shake Each Other’s Hands). The European Commission is believed to be setting up a steering group and drawing up a non-paper right now.
Things are bad and have reached the very highest levels. This week we saw German Chancellor Angela Merkel offer a handshake to her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who politely declined lest the most powerful politician in Europe infect him. Has no one told her about the “Wuhan shake,” in which people use a foot-to-foot greeting in order to keep their hands away from each other?
Then the start of the Brexit talks in Brussels saw the two sides’ lead negotiators — Michel Barnier and David Frost — agree not to shake hands because
they can’t stand each other of coronavirus. Of course, it could just have been Barnier refusing to touch Frost as the latter had, according to British media reports, enjoyed a full English breakfast to set him up for the day and may have been covered in grease.
In France, Health Minister Olivier Véran urged people to stop la bise, or kissing people on both cheeks to say hello or goodbye. The practice has already proven popular with former Paris mayoral candidate Benjamin Griveaux, who prefers touching himself.
There was similar advice in Italy, where Angelo Borrelli, the special commissioner for coronavirus, said his countrymen and women should try and be “a bit less expansive” — or Italian, as it’s more commonly known.
The U.K. has largely been spared the kind of advice given out by the likes of Véran and Borrelli, as most Brits would rather cut off their own arm than have physical contact with even a close acquaintance. A notable exception is Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who says he’s going to keep shaking people’s hands. His health secretary, Matt Hancock, told the BBC that “as long as you wash your hands after … then that’s fine” — which is sound advice for anyone thinking of touching Boris Johnson, coronavirus or not.
We should be thankful that Jean-Claude Juncker, for whom kissing, hair ruffling and touching were part of the daily routine (whether asked for or not), isn’t in office for all this.
“There are only three parachutes! This isn’t looking good for you, Margaritis.”
Last week we gave you this photo:
Thanks for all the entries. Here’s the best from our post bag (there’s no prize except for the gift of laughter, which I think we can all agree is far more valuable than cash or booze).
“You want me….really?…..to sing the UK Eurovision Song Contest entry” by Brian Telfer
Paul Dallison is POLITICO‘s slot news editor.