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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Boris Johnson boasted of shaking hands with coronavirus patients on same day officials urged greetings ban, documents show

Boris Johnson boasted of shaking hands with coronavirus patients on same day officials urged greetings ban, documents show

Boris Johnson was pictured shaking boxer Anthony Joshua's hand on 9 March (PA)

3 min read

Number 10 has defended Boris Johnson for boasting of shaking hands with “everybody” at a hospital on the same day the Government’s scientific advisers recommended an end to the greeting.

A newly-published document by the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), a sub-group of the Sage advisory panel, reveals officials agreed to “advise against” hand shakes on 3 March.

That was the same day the Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: "I was at a hospital the other night where I think a few there were actually coronavirus patients.

"And I shook hands with everybody, you'll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands."

The SPI-B note said: "There was agreement that Government should advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene.

"Promoting a replacement greeting or encouraging others to politely decline a proffered hand-shake may have benefit."

But Mr Johnson went on to shake hands live on television with This Morning hosts Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on 5 March.

And the PM was pictured shaking hands with boxer Anthony Joshua at Westminster Abbey another four days later.

But his official spokesman defended his actions, suggesting Mr Johnson would not have seen the advice at the time.

He said: "The Prime Minister wouldn't have seen that advice, no. I think that is also a reference to a visit the PM had made to a hospital quite a few days before...

"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."

'UNNECESSARY CONFUSION'

Asked when Mr Johnson might have seen the Sage advice, the spokesperson told reporters: "In general, in relation to the Sage papers, they were papers that had been considered by Sage which informed the advice Sage provided to ministers. 

“They are not Sage's final advice to ministers. So in terms of the Prime Minister I would not be able to say whether he ever saw those papers.”

The PM’s spokesman also defended the amount of Sage advice which has still not been released, despite the Government bowing to pressure to release some of the group’s papers about the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: "We will publish all of the evidence in the coming weeks and months. Some of the evidence remains under live consideration for policy decisions being made by government and as such it would not be appropriate to publish at this time.

"Releasing policy still under formulation could cause unnecessary confusion to the public at a time when clear guidance is the top priority. 

“Other documents that have been considered will be published in organised tranches once they have all the relevant permissions that they are ok to be in the public domain.”

Adding: "The only redactions are for advice which is still under development or where contact details have been removed.

“The redactions were carried out by officials working for the Government Office for Science in consultation with the document authors."

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