As cases rise the world over, there is increasing anxiety about how long a virus can stay alive once it is transferred to a surface. The nature of transmission by contact makes this the most important question of all because, on that will depend whether the taxi you have taken is safe. What if the last passenger had been carrying the virus?
The World Health Organization (WHO) says: “It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).”
This variability and an element of the unknown pervade all containment measures. Said Dr Sujeet Singh, director, National Centre for Disease Control: “See, generally for coronavirus on a hard surface, it stays alive for about nine hours; on a soft surface it may survive even longer. It also depends on the heat, temperature and humidity. But the longevity of viruses is very variable, some can live up to nine days. That is why whenever we suspect contamination we disinfect with sodium hypochlorite and close the place down for four to six hours. We do not ‘fumigate’, we disinfect.”
This basically means a soft toy is likely to retain the virus longer than a hard tabletop. However, neither can infect if your hands are washed well with soap and water, or cleaned with a sanitiser. The WHO prescribes: “If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.”
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