For the sake of love: people flout coronavirus warnings
People are being warned against cheek-kissing and handshakes for fear of spreading the coronavirus. But at such a time, are love and dating also on hold?
Some in Paris, seen by its fans as the capital of romance, seem happy to flout the advice against physical contact and put their quest for love first.
On Camille's second date with Olivier, who she met via dating app Tinder, he offered her a sip from his drink at a Paris movie theatre. There was only one straw. "I hesitated for several seconds, and then I said 'yes' because I was afraid I would spoil the moment," the French architect recalled.
In the end, they kissed.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which has warned of a real threat of the coronavirus outbreak becoming a pandemic -- meaning it has truly spread worldwide -- has no specific advice for people pursuing amorous agendas.
"WHO's advice on prevention applies to all social situations," the UN's health arm said in a statement sent to AFP in response to a query. Advice includes regular hand-washing, avoiding travelling if you have a fever or cough, and coughing and sneezing into your sleeve or a discardable tissue.
'Continue to have fun'
The virus is known to travel in human saliva, which should make kissing on the lips off limits. France has already advised against the less intimate but common greeting "la bise" -- which involves touching cheeks while making kissing noises in the air.
There is no published data suggesting the virus can spread via sex. Tinder, the app that famously allows users to swipe through a myriad of candidates for a date or a hookup, has issued a warning to users that "While we want you to continue to have fun, protecting yourself from the coronavirus is more important."
The message, which pops up between two potential "matches", is accompanied by a list of basic prevention measures which include keeping a "social distance" in public gatherings -- seemingly at odds with the app's very reason for existence: getting people together.
Health authorities say the virus appears to spread between people who are within about 1.8 metres (six feet) from one another. "Tinder is aware that its members are sometimes driven to meet in person," the company, which has some 50 million clients, told AFP. It said it wished to highlight safety precautions "given the current environment."
Celia, a 39-year-old Parisian who did not give her full name, said the outbreak did nothing to dampen her excitement about meeting up with the man she had been flirting with online. "There is an element of 'the end of the world' to this virus, it... makes me want to live a little more intensely, and not necessarily in a wholesome way," she told AFP.
The date was ultimately cancelled because her counterpart had a fever.
For some, the outbreak seems to have only fuelled their search for love. "I have the impression that it has served as a boost, that everyone is connecting, loosening up," said a dating app user who gave her name as Leila and said she had observed a sudden increase in "matches" and meet-ups.
Research has shown that periods of high anxiety may drive people to engage in more, and riskier, sexual behaviour. The WHO said it was "normal and understandable to feel anxious" in these days, "especially if you live in a country or community that has been affected" by the coronavirus.
In the bars and nightclubs of Paris, many seem to be opting for the strategy of avoidance. A man sitting at a bar counter with three friends jokes that the virus "is a good topic of conversation, it makes it easy to talk to girls".
At another popular spot, 30-year-old Jeanne asserts that after a few drinks "one quickly forgets about the risks of infection". And at Mask, a Paris swingers club where guests often wear elaborate disguises, the management has noted a 30-percent drop in clientele, but insists it will not close, for now.
At the entrance, guests can collect a mask -- of the surgical kind.