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Virus may remain infectious for up to four weeks on phone screens and banknotes

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The new coronavirus may remain infectious for weeks on banknotes, glass and other common surfaces, according to research by Australia's top biosecurity laboratory that highlights risks from paper currency, touchscreen devices and grab handles.

Scientists at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness showed SARS-CoV-2 is "extremely robust," surviving for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as glass found on mobile phone screens and plastic banknotes at room temperature, or 20C.

That compares with 17 days survival for the flu virus.

Virus survival declined to less than a day at 40C on some surfaces, according to the study, published in Virology Journal.

The findings add to evidence that the Covid-19-causing coronavirus survives for longer in cooler weather, making it potentially harder to control in winter than summer. The research also helps to more accurately predict and mitigate the pandemic's spread, the researchers said.

"Our results show that SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious on surfaces for long periods of time, reinforcing the need for good practices such as regular hand washing and cleaning surfaces," said Debbie Eagles, the centre's deputy director.

The coronavirus tended to survive longer on non-porous or smooth surfaces, compared with porous complex surfaces, such as cotton.

The research involved drying the coronavirus in an artificial mucus on different surfaces, at concentrations similar to those reported in samples from infected patients, and then reisolating the virus over a month. The study was also carried out in the dark, to remove the effect of ultraviolet light, as research has demonstrated direct sunlight can ­rapidly inactivate the virus.

"While the precise role of surface transmission, the degree of surface contact and the amount of virus required for infection is yet to be determined, establishing how long this virus remains viable on surfaces is critical for developing risk-mitigation strategies," Ms Eagles said.

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The persistence on glass is an important finding, given that touchscreen devices such as mobile phones, bank ATMs, supermarket self-serve checkouts and airport check-in kiosks are touch surfaces which may not be regularly cleaned and therefore pose a transmission risk, the researchers said in the paper.

They found the longer survival time of SARS-CoV-2 than seasonal flu on banknotes "of particular significance, considering the frequency of circulation and the potential for transfer of viable virus both between individuals and ­geographic locations".

Before SARS-CoV-2 was declared a pandemic, China had started decontaminating its paper currency, suggesting concerns over transmission via paper banknotes existed, the researchers said, noting that the US and South Korea have also quarantined bank notes as a result of the pandemic. (© Washington Post)


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