COVID-19 virus can last almost a month on smartphones and ATMs, CSIRO finds

The virus that causes COVID-19 can last up to 28 days on surfaces like mobile phone and ATM screens, much longer than previously thought, but lasts for much less time on softer surfaces, new CSIRO research shows.

Previous research from US health authorities showed the virus could be detected in aerosols for up to three hours and on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days.

A droplet of the COVID-19 virus in artificial mucous on a small section of the $5 note.Credit:CSIRO

Similar experiments for Influenza A have found that it survived on surfaces for 17 days.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said "establishing how long the virus really remains viable on surfaces enables us to more accurately predict and mitigate its spread, and do a better job of protecting our people".

The study notes the virus is primarily transmitted through aerosols and droplets caused by infected people sneezing or coughing near another person. The role of contaminated surfaces in the virus' spread is yet to be fully determined, according to the study, but has "been suggested as a potential mode of transmission also reflected by the strong focus on hand-washing by [the World Health Organisation] and national control schemes".

"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 high touch surfaces which may not be regularly cleaned and therefore pose a transmission risk of SARS-CoV-2," the study states.

"It has been demonstrated that mobile phones can harbour pathogens responsible for nosocomial transmission, and unlike hands, are not regularly cleaned."

The CSIRO said the findings may help to explain the persistent spread of the coronavirus in cool environments such as abattoirs.

Professor Trevor Drew, director of the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, said the virus' viability on surfaces outside their host relied on a number of factors.

"How long they can survive and remain infectious depends on the type of virus, quantity, the surface, environmental conditions and how it's deposited – for example, touch versus droplets emitted by coughing," Professor Drew said.

A droplet of the virus in artificial mucous on glass, where it can survive for 28 days in certain conditions.Credit:CSIRO

"Proteins and fats in body fluids can also significantly increase virus survival times."

The research, conducted at the Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong, Victoria, involved drying virus in an artificial mucus on different surfaces, at concentrations similar to those reported 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 UV light as research has demonstrated direct sunlight can rapidly inactivate the virus.

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