March 1, 2020 / 12:14 PM / a month ago

No kissing please, we're Swiss, minister urges over coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: Swiss Minister for Home Affairs Alain Berset walks past reporters after European health ministers from neighbouring countries to Italy held a meeting to discuss Italy's coronavirus outbreak, in Rome, Italy, February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

VIENNA (Reuters) - Swiss people should consider dropping the everyday greeting of kissing each other on the cheeks, to avoid spreading the coronavirus, Switzerland’s Health Minister Alain Berset said in remarks published on Sunday.

In Switzerland, as in neighboring France, it is common for women and people of opposite sexes to greet each other with alternating kisses on both cheeks. The Swiss version generally involves an asymmetrical three in total, in contrast to the two more usual for ‘la bise’ (the kiss) across the border.

“We know that keeping one’s distance socially is the best way to slow the spread of the virus. That is why renouncing greeting kisses is a measure that should be seriously taken into consideration,” Berset told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper, when asked if he was advising against the greeting.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran advised on Friday against shaking hands because of the coronavirus outbreak, though he stopped short of saying the same of la bise. Switzerland and France border northern Italy, where Europe’s worst outbreak has occurred.

Regularly washing or disinfecting your hands is central to the advice issued by the World Health Organization and other authorities on how to prevent the spread of the disease.

Separately, newspaper NZZ am Sonntag quoted a health official as saying Switzerland would issue new guidelines in the coming days on how to guard against the illness.

“One will be to immediately stop shaking hands,” Daniel Koch, head of the communicable diseases unit at the Swiss Federal Department of Health, told the newspaper.

Switzerland has already introduced a ban on events expected to draw 1,000 people or more until March 15 in an effort to combat the coronavirus. It has fewer than 20 confirmed cases, in contrast to the hundreds in Italy, though that number is rising.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Potter

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