Safe hugging—six ways to Covid-proof your hugs according to health experts

'Safe hugging' isn't a phrase we thought we'd hear this time last year...

two women hugging outdoors
(Image credit: Alys Tomlinson via Getty)

Let’s face it—going without hugs hasn’t exactly been easy. A year of social distancing has diluted our interaction with other humans to Zoom calls and text messages, leaving many of us desperate for the comfort of simple physical touch. 

Research has found that hugs, hairdressers, and visits to friends’ houses have all topped the list of our most-missed things during the lockdown, reminding us just how important a cuddle and catchup is to our overall well being.

Fortunately, after months of 2D virtual embraces and awkward elbow bumps, it looks like the countdown to a more touchy-feely Britain is finally upon us. Here's what health experts say about safe hugging in a Covid-19 world...

Is hugging allowed now and when can I hug my family?

The UK government has granted permission to hug from Monday 17th May onwards, marking a major milestone in the pathway back to normality after more than 14 months of restrictions.

What are the current hugging guidelines?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that the British public will be allowed to hug from May 17, but should "exercise care and common sense" when doing so. 

“People should do it if you think it’s appropriate; if you think the risks are very, very low,” he said during a news conference on Downing Street.

How to exercise 'cautious hugging', according to experts

Before you embark on a full-blown snuggle spree, you might want to make a few edits to your signature hug. Experts have continued to advise caution when in close contact, especially for those who have yet to receive their vaccine. 

For maximum protection, keep in mind the following guidelines when you do indulge in that long-awaited embrace. 

How to hug safely, according to health experts

1. Turn your face away

If possible, resist the urge to nuzzle one another’s noses when you go in for your hug. Turning your face to the side lowers the risk of infection by minimizing contact with the red zones of Covid-19 transmission—the nose and the mouth. 

“The reality is that when you hug someone you are very close to them and we know the virus is in people's breath and you are very close to that breath at that moment,” explains Professor Catherine Noakes, who sits on Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies committee that advises the government. 

2. Keep it short and sweet

We love warm, drawn-out hugs as much as the next person—but unfortunately, so does Covid-19. Infection risk increases the longer you spend together, so be sure to set a mental timer on all your upcoming embraces. "Don't spend too long making face-to-face contact, make it a brief hug," chief medical advisor to Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, says. 

3. Choose wisely

While it would be great to return to a world where hugs are a free-for-all, it’s best to be selective with those you choose to cuddle. 

"Perhaps don't hug everybody you know,” advises Professor Noakes. “If you are going to hug somebody, restrict it to very small numbers of close family who perhaps you would really value a hug from."

two women hugging outdoors

(Image credit: Jutta Klee via Getty Images)

4. Wear a mask

We know—wearing a mask is the last thing you want to do when you’re hugging a loved one. They can be sweaty, itchy, and plain-old irritating—but they’re also highly effective in protecting from Covid-19 transmission. “Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets [which carry the virus] from reaching others.”

If you or your hug bud hasn’t been vaccinated yet, you might want to whip one on just in case. Disposable and reusable face masks are now available to buy at most supermarkets, chemists, and clothing retailers, meaning there's no excuse for a bare face at your post-pandemic reunions. 

5. Hug outdoors

The science is clear on this one—close contact is safer outside. The coronavirus spreads more easily in confined spaces, meaning ventilation is the best accessory to your summer hugging. Opt to embrace your loved ones al-fresco over the warmer season if possible, to minimize the chances of transmission and nab some much-needed Vitamin D while you’re at it. If you absolutely must hug inside, make sure you crack open plenty of windows to boost ventilation and reduce air recirculation. 

6. Get tested

Knowledge is power—and that’s especially true when it comes to diseases like Covid-19. By testing yourself and getting the all-clear, you can hug your loved ones without the nagging worry of accidentally passing on the virus. And remember, you don’t need to feel sick to undergo a test. About one-third of people with the coronavirus are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show any warning signs of the deadly infection. 

We can't wait to hug our loved ones again! 

Emma is a news writer for woman&home and My Imperfect Life. She covers the Royal Family and the entertainment world, as well as the occasional health or lifestyle story. When she's not reporting on the British monarchy and A-list celebs, you can find her whipping up vegan treats and running the roads to cheesy '90s pop music...but not at the same time, obviously.