CORONAVIRUS

WHO: Can coronavirus be spread through objects?

The virus can remain on objects for a number of days with the duration depending on the material involved. Studies show it could live for up to nine days on certain surfaces in certain conditions.

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WHO: Can coronavirus be spread through objects?
CESAR MANSO AFP

The coronavirus is making us second-guess everything we do during our day. How much distance should I give someone as I run past them? Can they infect me by breathing close to me? What about touching door handles or food other people have touched in the supermarket? Could parcel brought to my house have droplets on it from the person delivering it? How long can can Covid-19 live on my hair and beard?

As a frequent source of questions over the past few months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided a set of guidelines as to how long the virus can last on objects, including cardboard, paper, plastic and steel.

How is the coronavirus spread?

People can get Covid-19 through contact with another person already infected with the virus. According to the WHO, the disease can spread from person to person through droplets from the nose or mouth that are ejected when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales.

However, these droplets can also fall onto objects and surfaces, and if someone else touches that contaminated area, and then puts their hands near their eyes, nose or mouth, they can contract the coronavirus.

The droplets contain viral particles emitted from the respiratory tract of an infected individual. When they land on a surface and another person touches that surface before touching their eyes, nose or mouth, they can then pick up the virus. One study has found that SARS-CoV-2, the name given to the coronavirus itself, could remain on objects such as cardboard for up to 24 hours and this would include packages from food, newspapers and such. However, it can last on plastic and steel for several days, potentially making doorknobs and stair handles, along with elevator buttons, hotspots for the coronavirus droplets.

WHO explains how long the virus can last on objects

"It is not known how long the virus causing Covid-19 survives on a surface, but it appears to behave like other coronaviruses,” reports the WHO. “Studies (including preliminary information on the Covid-19 virus) indicate that coronaviruses can subsist on a surface from a few hours to several days.

"The time may vary depending on the conditions, for example: the type of surface, the temperature or the humidity of the surroundings,” added the report.

Recent tests carried out on steel and plastic surfaces by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Montana suggested that it could last up to three full days, while other analysis has stated it can exist for closer to nine days.

An elevator then, for example, might be a constant source of coronavirus infection due to people constantly pressing the buttons.

Many people have taken to disinfecting food packaging or leaving packages delivered to their house outside for a number of days before carefully opening it and discarding the packaging.