GENEVA -- The handshake -- at least for now -- is dead.

A greeting that originated as a sign of peace, to show your enemy you were not holding weapons, has been replaced with a term few Canadians had heard of until recently: social distancing.

This week I went to the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, an impressive sprawling building filled with experts who are on a desperate mission to coordinate an international response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I was there to meet Dr. Bruce Aylward, a renowned Canadian infectious disease expert.

When we are first introduced, I instinctively stick out my hand to greet him. In response, he puts both his hands up in the air and makes it very clear that no one should be shaking hands in the midst of this crisis.

When I ask him if the handshake is dead he says: “You shouldn't even be asking me that question two months into an outbreak like this.”

But even here at the WHO headquarters, Dr. Aylward admits people forget.

“As you can see, everybody comes and offers their hand. But those of us in the business know you just can’t.”

Walking side by side, Dr. Aylward says we are even standing too close and warns that we should be at least one metre away from each other.

The former assistant director general of the WHO is no stranger to frightening diseases. He has spent his career tackling global health emergencies: Ebola, Zika, and Polio. And now, he is the WHO’s go-to doctor for COVID-19.

Dr. Aylward led an international team right to the frontline of where this all began – Wuhan, China – on a fact-finding mission at the height of the lockdowns in that region. He has compiled ground-breaking research on the mysterious disease. And what he learned, he said, is a lesson for countries around the world.

China was able to stop this disease from spreading further by bringing in what he calls “draconian” steps: self-isolation, mass quarantine and social distancing measures. His advice to Canadians is to avoid large crowds; keep your distance from other people; get tested if you have a fever and cough; and stay home if you are sick.

In the absence of a handshake, here are some other greetings to consider:

  • The Roman handshake: Clasp the person`s forearm instead of their hand
  • The prayer greeting: Put your hands together in prayer in front of your chest
  • The Islamic greeting: Put your hand over your heart
  • The self-explanatory elbow bump or Foot Tap.

Watch W5`s Dr. W.H.O. Saturday night, as Dr. Bruce Aylward makes a terrifying prediction of just what will happen next in this pandemic, and shares rare photos of his mission into COVID-19 ground zero.