21 Feb 2022

The etiquette of living with Covid

The Government is expected to end most Covid restrictions this week, meaning that we will be starting to live with the virus and make informed choices about our own social behaviour.

Will social life return to normal? How can we politely accommodate the great range of attitudes to Covid? How can we pay due attention to the more vulnerable members of society without constricting the freedoms of everyone else? How do we conduct ourselves in the aftermath of the pandemic?


• Don’t make assumptions that everyone has the same attitude to the virus as you. You may have decided that a robust return to normal is right for you, but be aware that everyone you meet will not share your optimism. On the other hand, if you are still very nervous about the risks of the disease, you may find yourself in a growing minority and will need to acknowledge this.

• If in doubt about physical contact, just ask; make a jokey enquiry about attitudes before going in for a close hug or a prolonged handshake. If you’re met with resistance fall back on the panoply of evasive greetings we’ve perfected over the last two years: a serene namaste  (a gentle bow with hands clasped in front of your chest); an elbow bump; exaggerated air kisses; blowing kisses; waving from close quarters. This somewhat comical array of greetings can be performed semi-ironically, and may even be a good conversation starter with strangers.

• As with all good manners, seek to minimise the negative impact of your behaviour on other people. If you want people to behave in a certain way around you (for example, wear a mask or use hand sanitiser), don’t just make a bald request. Add a short explanation or apology (“I’m sorry, I’m still really nervous – my mother’s in a care home….” etc). People will be reassured that they are doing you a favour and will cooperate with alacrity.

• When asked to behave in a certain way (eg wear a mask) contain any irritation and do what is requested with good grace. If you really find it difficult to cooperate with a request, make your excuses and leave – confrontations are pointless as attitudes to Covid are deep-rooted and unshakeable, and frequently freighted with emotion.

• If people are persistently nervous about the virus, and resist personal contact or close quarters socialising, contain your irritation. It is quite possible that they have a weakened immune system, but may wish to maintain confidentiality. The last two years have highlighted health concerns and made ill health a topic of daily conversation, but for many people this is a private matter, and interrogating people about their health should be resisted.

• Act responsibly around the virus. It may not be mandatory to self-isolate if you are confronted by a positive lateral flow test, or are suffering from a characteristic cluster of Covid symptoms, but careful consideration should indicate that it is best to avoid close contact with your fellow humans – these strictures have always applied in the case of colds and flu, and it is reasonable to expect that people will do their utmost to avoid passing on infections.

• Don’t be a vaccine policeman. While you may find it reassuring to know that people you are associating with are triple-jabbed, it is intrusive and potentially divisive to ask them. If you want to reassure someone about your Covid status you might choose to tell them about your vaccination history, but this is a private matter and should not be an expectation.

• If your are still cautious about Covid, or protecting a vulnerable person, it is acceptable to ask guests or visitors to your house to take lateral flow tests while they are still being freely provided by the government (though follow the advice above and soften your request with an explanation or excuse). However, if the tests cease to be free, you must think carefully about making this demand. Asking people to spend money before they can even begin to enjoy your hospitality will taint the experience for many people.

• If you do ask guests to take a lateral flow test, take their word when they say it is negative. Sending each other pictures of negative tests is over-sharing, and clearly indicates that you do not find your friends trustworthy.

Remember we’ve all learned a lot and modified our behaviour considerably over the last two years. Be open about your concerns, explain your insecurities, and do your best to trust people to behave responsibly – it’s how we used to live before the whole paraphernalia of shielding, testing, tracing and self-isolation overshadowed our world, and we’re going to have to learn to live that way again.


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