Coronavirus 'can stay on mobile phones and cash for four weeks’

Virus tends to survive longer on smooth surfaces

A woman holds a lit candle, icons and a mobile phone during a protest against the use of face masks and the protection measures against the COVID-19 infections in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Several hundred Romanians, mostly Orthodox Christian zealots and right-wing nationalists, held a protest in the country's capital against measures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, especially social distancing and the mandatory use of masks in schools, as Romania registered the highest numbers of COVID-19 daily infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

The coronavirus may remain infectious for weeks on banknotes, glass and other common surfaces, research from Australia’s top biosecurity laboratory shows.

Scientists at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness said the virus was “extremely robust", surviving for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as mobile phone screens and plastic banknotes, at room temperature, or 20°C.

That compares with 17 days' survival for the influenza virus.

Virus survival declined to less than a day at 40°C on some surfaces, says the study, which will be published on Monday in Virology Journal.

The findings add to mounting evidence that the virus survives for longer in cooler weather, making it harder to control in winter.

The research also helps to more accurately predict and limit the pandemic’s spread, the researchers said.

The results reinforce "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 received funding from Australia’s Defence Department.

It involved drying the coronavirus in an artificial mucus on different surfaces, at concentrations similar to those in samples from infected patients, and then re-isolating the virus over a month.

The study was also carried out in the dark to remove the effect of ultraviolet light, which research suggests can quickly 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 in high contact areas,” Ms Eagles said.

The resilience on glass is an important finding, given that touchscreen devices such as phones, bank ATMs, supermarket self-serve checkouts and airport check-ins are high-touch surfaces that may not be regularly cleaned, the researchers said.

They found the longer survival time on on plastic banknotes “of particular significance, considering the frequency of circulation and the potential for transfer of viable virus between individuals and geographic locations".

Before the pandemic was declared, China had started to decontaminate its paper currency, suggesting concerns over transmission through banknotes existed at the time, the researchers said.

The US and South Korea have also quarantined bank notes because of the pandemic.

The survival of the coronavirus on stainless steel at cooler temperatures may help to explain the many outbreaks linked to meat processing and cold storage facilities, the authors said.

Their data supported the findings of a study showing the survival of the coronavirus on fresh and frozen food.

The pandemic has infected more than 37.6 million people and claimed the lives of nearly 1.08 million, according to the latest data from Worldometer.