- Boris Johnson continued to shake hands in public after his own scientific advisers warned against it.
- Newly-released papers reveal Johnson’s advisers told the government to advise against handshaking in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
- Johnson told ITV that “I’ve been going around hospitals as you can imagine and always shake hands.”
- New figures show the UK now has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Boris Johnson continued to shake hands at public events after his own scientific advisers warned that doing so would risk spreading the coronavirus.
Papers released on Tuesday by the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies reveal that the UK Prime Minister’s advisers agreed that the government “should advise against greetings such as shaking hands.”
At a meeting on March 3 the papers reveal that “there was agreement that Government should advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene.”
However, Johnson continued to shake hands at multiple public events and media appearances, in the days that followed.
On the day of the meeting Johnson told a press conference in Downing Street that “I’m shaking hands continuously. I was at a hospital the other night where there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody.”
Two days after the advice on hand-shaking, Johnson appeared on ITV’s This Morning Programme during which he shook host Philip Schofield’s hand, despite the presenter’s apparent reluctance.
“You came straight in here and I kept my hands by my side to see what would happen and you shook my hand,” Schofield told him.
Johnson replied that “I’ve been going around hospitals as you can imagine and always shake hands.
He added: “People make their own decisions. Washing them is the most effective thing [to do] rather than barring all forms [of greeting].”
He was subsequently photographed shaking hands in the crowd of the England vs Wales Six Nations rugby union international at Twickenham Stadium on Match 7 alongside his fiancee Carrie Symonds.
The prime minister was then photographed doing the same with the boxer Anthony Joshua at an event on March 9.
Both Johnson and Symonds subsequently went on to fall ill with COVID-19, with Johnson requiring treatment in intensive care.
A spokesman for the prime minister was unable on Tuesday to say whether Johnson had seen the advice not to shake hands.
“In general, on relation to the SAGE papers, they were being considered by SAGE and informed the advice provided to ministers,” he said, adding “In terms of the PM I’m not able to say if he would ever have seen that document.”
The spokesman added: “The PM was very clear at the time that he was taking a number of precautionary steps, including frequently washing his hands, and once the social distancing advice changed the Prime Minister’s approach changed.”
Johnson and his ministers have repeatedly insisted that they have been “led by the science” in their approach to tackling the coronavirus.
However, the UK’s Chief Scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance contradicted this on Tuesday, telling a parliamentary committee that “The correct way of saying it is that the decisions are informed by science, they are not led by science.”
The newly released documents, come as the latest figures show the UK now has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe.
The UK has overtaken Italy and is now second only to the United States in terms of the number of deaths of people who have tested positive for COVID-19.