It’s been over three months since the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, caused by a mutation of the Coronavirus, which has now spread all over the world, infecting more than a million people and claiming over 69,000 lives (as of 6 April 2020) in the process.

Coronaviruses aren’t new as earlier mutations had led to outbreaks like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle-East respiratory syndrome) in the past. However, the novel strain of Coronavirus codenamed SARS-CoV-2 has not only spread like wildfire in most countries, it has led global superpowers and economies to take drastic measures in order to curb the spread of the disease caused by it.

Italy and Spain have faced the worst of the contagion by suffering the highest number of deaths, while the United States has reported the largest number of positive cases in the world, far surpassing that of China’s figures where the infection originated from. Closer home, India has reported far less numbers, but that is also to do with the lower numbers of testing (testing in India is at a 36% capacity as of April 2020).

The World Health Organization (WHO) as well as India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have issued guidelines in an effort to control the spread of the disease in the country, largely by following social distancing protocols, practising personal hygiene like regularly washing hands and wearing masks, especially for those showing the flu-like symptoms of the disease.

India, on 25 March 2020, imposed a nationwide lockdown to prevent the infection from spreading into the community which puts its 1.3-billion strong population at risk of contracting it. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, the spread of COVID-19 in India is at Stage 2 transmission of the pandemic and this move was to prevent the contagion from moving into Stage 3, which is also known as community transmission.

  1. SARS-CoV-2 and surface transmission
  2. More observations from the study of SARS-CoV-2 virus
  3. Preventive measures to practice against the spread of coronavirus
  4. Takeaways
Doctors for How long can SARS-CoV-2 virus survive on different surfaces?

The novel strain of the virus, which had jumped across species to infect humans, however, isn’t only transferable via human-to-human contact. Earlier, it was thought that the virus would only be transferred from one person to another through droplets that are released while talking, coughing, sneezing or while touching a contaminated hand to the face.

However, recent developments have also revealed that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on surfaces for hours, according to a survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine. 

Researchers discovered that the virus that causes the new coronavirus infection could stay in aerosols (particles in the air) for as long as three hours, up to four hours on metal surfaces like copper and as long as 24 hours on cardboard. But on surfaces made of plastic or stainless steel, the virus could remain active for as many as 2 to 3 days. This discovery dispelled the notion that the virus was only communicable through human-to-human transmission.

Surfaces where the virus was found to be active and infectious

  • In aerosols (suspended in the air through tiny solid or liquid particles) - Up to 3 hours
  • On copper - Up to 4 hours
  • On cardboard - Up to 24 hours
  • On plastic and stainless steel - Up to 2-3 days

Read more: What makes COVID-19 dangerous?

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Scientists studied the novel strain of coronavirus under laboratory conditions, and the time the virus survives on the various surfaces could differ in real-world situations, but it gave a glimpse on how stable the virus remains even without being in contact with a host or a carrier.

The takeaway from the tests, however, was how long the virus can survive on various surfaces as well as the knowledge that one could contract the infection while coming in contact with a contaminated surface.

Although the scientists found the similarities between the novel strain of the coronavirus as well as the earlier mutation of the virus during the 2002 SARS outbreak to be similar, they were perplexed by the scale of the latest outbreak. In 2002, the SARS outbreak led to 8,000 deaths globally over a span of two years, while the latest outbreak has already claimed four times as many lives.

The scientists, however, considered the observations to be critical in understanding the latest mutation of the virus, and that it would help in further investigations as the scientific community ramps up its efforts to come up with treatments and vaccines for the rising numbers of infected people globally.

Read more: 4 inventive solutions to treat symptoms of COVID-19

The developments leading to the discovery of how the infection has been spreading at an alarming rate has led the scientific community to come up with basic preventive measures one can practice to keep themselves safe from contracting the disease:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Frequently clean the floors of your home, bathroom and other surfaces outside with disinfectants.
  • Avoid frequently touching surfaces like doorknobs, laptops, keyboards, remote controls, tables, chairs and kitchen counters. Disinfect those surfaces regularly and clean your hands after touching any of them.
  • Do not step out of your home unless necessary. If you do, carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you at all times, and clean your hands with soap and water after returning home.
  • Avoid using public transport.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your elbow. Do not reuse a tissue.
  • Stay home if you are feeling sick, and always wear a mask to cover your nose and face.

Read more: 10 safe ways to engage socially while maintaining healthy distance

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Unprecedented curbs on human movement around the world has brought the global economy to its knees, but extraordinary measures have only been imposed to prevent the infection from killing more people than it already has.

Densely populated countries such as India face an even bigger challenge in trying to control the spread of the disease, and such measures are only an effort to counter the pandemic from infecting a large section of the population.

Read more: Can number of coronavirus cases go into lakhs in India?

The discovery of the stability of the virus even on external surfaces explains in part why the disease has spread so quickly across the world, and preventive measures against it can help in keeping the number of infected persons to a low number.

Dr Rahul Gam

Dr Rahul Gam

Infectious Disease
8 Years of Experience

Dr. Arun R

Dr. Arun R

Infectious Disease
5 Years of Experience

Dr. Neha Gupta

Dr. Neha Gupta

Infectious Disease
16 Years of Experience

Dr. Anupama Kumar

Dr. Anupama Kumar

Infectious Disease

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  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; How Coronavirus Spreads
  2. Health Harvard Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Coronavirus Resource Center..
  3. Van Doremalen et al. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2020 Mar 17. [Internet]
  4. NIH: National Institutes of Health; [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Study suggests new coronavirus may remain on surfaces for days
  5. NIH: National Institutes of Health; [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Bethesda, Maryland, USA. New coronavirus stable for hours on surfaces
  6. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Modes of transmission of virus causing COVID-19: implications for IPC precaution recommendations
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