The novel coronavirus can survive on mobile phone screens (as well as stainless steel and banknotes) for as much as 28 days, according to new research from our very own Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
Previously it was believed that Covid-19 only lived for a few days on surfaces. As the authors of the study concluded, “These findings demonstrate SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious for significantly longer time periods than generally considered possible.”
Notably, the researchers ensured that the virus was not exposed to any UV light during the study. UV has been shown to significantly shorten Covid-19’s infectious lifespan on surfaces. So unless your phone is in the dark all the time, the virus probably won’t be able to live on it for very long.
Furthermore, the study found that the virus doesn’t do well in higher temperatures. At 20 degrees, it has a half life of between 1.7 and 2.7 days, which translates to the four-week lifespan mentioned above.
However, when the temperature was increased to 40 degrees, the virus’ half life dropped to just a few hours, and within 24 hours it was gone.
It’s worth noting that the jury is still out regarding the extent of surface transmission of Covid-19. The consensus holds that the virus is mostly transmitted via droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Surface transmission still happens but is believed to be far less common.
In an interview with the BBC, the former director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, Prof Ron Eccles, questioned the significance of the study’s findings.
“Viruses are spread on surfaces from mucus in coughs and sneezes and dirty fingers,” he said. “This study did not use fresh human mucus as a vehicle to spread the virus. Fresh mucus is a hostile environment for viruses as it contains lots of white cells that produce enzymes to destroy viruses and can also contain antibodies and other chemicals to neutralise viruses.”
His own opinion is that “infectious viruses will only persist for hours in mucus on surfaces rather than days.”
Either way, it’s a good idea to keep your phone clean. According to Apple, it’s okay to use disinfectant wipes on your phone and other devices (see here for instructions). According to US President Donald Trump, it’s okay to inject disinfectant into your lungs (see here for instructions).