From bows to handshakes, how Macron let social distancing slip

Michel Rose
·2-min read
French President Macron welcomes OECD, EU, Spain leaders at Elysee Palace in Paris

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) - Once an early adopter of the coronavirus-proof 'namaste' greeting, French President Emmanuel Macron was showing signs of letting his guard down almost a year into the pandemic.

On Monday, three days before his office said he had tested positive for COVID-19, Macron greeted OECD chief Angel Gurria with a warm hand clasp in the Elysee palace courtyard, pulling the 70-year-old into a loose embrace, a Reuters picture shows.

They were wearing masks, but Macron broke his government's no.1 pandemic rule: stick to what the French call "barrier gestures" and avoid handshakes, hugs and kisses.

"You know them, they save lives: barrier gestures are not an option!" Macron said in a tweet on July 12.

His office recognised Macron had made an "unfortunate" mistake in shaking Gurria's hand. "It's a mistake, he had this gesture, there is no denying it," an official told Reuters, adding that the president was nonetheless constantly washing his hands and asking guests to do the same.

Macron was always very tactile before the pandemic, sharing hugs with leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump and kissing and patting members of the public on the back.

In the past couple of weeks, the French leader fist-bumped EU counterparts at a summit in Brussels and greeted EU chief Charles Michel and Spanish leader Pedro Sanchez at the Elysee with pats on the back and elbows, TV footage shows.

Now Sanchez, Michel and Gurria are self-isolating.

Macron also hosted a lunch at the Elysee on Tuesday with about 20 parliamentary leaders and dined with a dozen lawmakers on Wednesday, parliamentary sources said, despite his government recommending no more than six guests at the table during end-of-year holidays.

That contrasted with his careful following of social-distancing guidelines earlier in the pandemic.

In March, days before he put the nation on lockdown, he replaced the traditional handshake with the Indian-style namaste when he greeted Spain's king and queen in Paris, pressing his palms together and bowing slightly.

He repeated the namaste greeting with Britain's Prince Charles on June 18 and maintained social distance outside 10 Downing Street with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

But on Oct. 28, when he announced a second lockdown, he included himself among those who had let social distancing slip.

"We should all have respected barrier gestures more, especially with family and friends," he said on TV. "Is now the time for regrets?"

(Reporting by Michel Rose; additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alexandra Hudson)