IS shaking hands now a thing of the past? And if it never comes back, would it be an end to civilisation as we know it?

A report I read this week said that the Covid pandemic has left the handshake hanging. And even with lockdown easing, it looks set to be ‘outlawed’ for some time, while social distancing remains in place.

The handshake is a universal sign of greeting, used for thousands of years. It has marked significant events in history, including peace agreements and the end of world wars. It is used to seal business deals, to break the ice with strangers, it’s a gesture of good sportsmanship, a formal greeting, a signal of friendship, and it has, say anthropologists, been around since ancient times. There is a theory that the handshake was used initially to show potential enemies that we were unarmed, but it’s a gesture also used among apes, as Charles Darwin once revealed, so it could be a more primal thing.

While society has evolved over the centuries, the handshake has always been around. But could the fall-out of a global pandemic mean it is gone for good? Offering your hand to someone now would be like pointing a weapon. We had it drummed into us early in the first lockdown that hands are dirty; they are potentially deadly carriers of germs, bacteria and infection and they must be washed immediately when you get home, for as long as it takes to sing two rounds of Happy Birthday.

Even when we return to some kind of normal, there will be lasting legacies of coronavirus. For many people, social distancing and face mask wearing will be around for a long time to come. It’s a form of self preservation that, having lived through the harrowing reality of a pandemic, we might not easily shake off. Limited human contact is something we’re now used to.

Of course this lack of physical contact has made the past year upsetting for many people - this week’s outdoor reunions have been bittersweet, especially for grandparents who can’t hug their grandchildren or hold new babies in the family - but as a social ritual, is pressing the flesh really necessary?

I quite like a handshake; it feels grown-up and a sign of respect. I’ve shaken the hands of several celebrities over the years, and it’s often a bit of a moment. The most memorable was Frank Bruno; shaking his huge, strong hand felt like being a child again, holding my dad’s big hand.

A firm grip is always best - there’s nothing worse than a clammy, limp handshake, which creates a dreadful first impression - but a bone-crusher is taking it too far, as I once discovered after a hand-shaking encounter with a massive German man I met on a press trip left my hand in so much pain my eyes filled with tears.

The handshake is universal, it’s in our DNA. It’s a sign of good manners and respect, and it still has a role in life. God forbid it ends up replaced with the fist or elbow bump, a peace sign or the complicated and hilarious gangsta-lite handshakes my teenage nephew greets his mates with.

I’m hopeful the handshake is just on extended hiatus, but I’m in no rush for it to come back. One of the things I haven’t missed is the over-familiarity that accompanies some greetings. In both professional and social situations, people I barely know haven’t just shaken my hand, they’ve leaned in for a peck (sometimes a slobbery kiss) on the cheek and a bear hug. It might be awfully British of me, but I find it awks.

Maybe the way forward with the handshake is to do as the Royals do when meeting the hoi polloi: Gloves on!