The UK Government has announced a new set of safety rules designed to combat the spread of Swine Flu. From Monday 17th August it will be an offence under emergency health legislation to kiss, hug or hold hands with another person in a public place.
Ministers were quick to point out that this was a temporary measure designed to highlight the danger of contamination between people, and that as soon as the pandemic had abated the rule would be abandoned.
The rule also extends to shaking hands, and the Department of Health said that police and other public sector workers such as teachers and hospital staff were being encouraged to explain the danger to anyone they see breaking the rule.
"There won't be fines or anything like that," a spokesperson told us, "It's all about raising awareness and encouraging people to abide by the rule. We have become more tactile as a nation over the last fifteen years, which is fine, but it does create the ideal conditions for viruses to spread."
A TV and newspaper advertising campaign is planned to publicise the rule, and a 'Personal Space' wristband made of Microban plastic is to be distributed through schools.
Businesses are asked to encourage the rule, especially amongst personnel such as salespeople who travel between companies. The use of e-mail, teleconferencing and phone calls is being suggested to replace all non-essential meetings, and the handing out of business cards and brochures is being discouraged for the time being.
Critics of the plan have questioned the idea of banning public contact between parents and their children and have pointed out that contact would still take place with shop staff and between co-workers. The spokesperson responded that the rule was designed to reduce personal contact where feasible, and that some contact was inevitable. "The more fire-breaks we have to restrict contamination the slower the disease is likely to spread," she said. "Our Personal Space initiative will reduce the impact of Swine Flu on the Health Service and the economy."