• The study found the virus can also survive longer at lower temperatures
  • The study reinforces the need for good practices such as regular handwashing and cleaning surfaces
  • However, other medical experts say the virus is unlikely to spread from contaminated surfaces

The virus that causes COVID-19 can survive for up to 28 days – 10 days longer than the Influenza virus – on certain surfaces, including paper banknotes, glass, mobile phone screens and stainless steel.

Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, discovered that SARS-CoV-2 -- the virus that leads to COVID-19 – can also survive longer at lower temperatures; tends to survive longer on non-porous or smooth surfaces like glass, stainless steel and vinyl (compared to porous complex surfaces such as cotton); and survives longer on paper banknotes compared to plastic banknotes.

The research took place at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, or ACDP, in Geelong.

BBC reported that the Australian study found the virus can last longer on surfaces than previously thought.

“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,” said CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall.

Dr. Debbie Eagles, deputy director of ACDP, said the study reinforced the need for good practices such as regular handwashing and cleaning surfaces.

“At 20 degrees Celsius [68 Fahrenheit], which is about room temperature, we found that the virus was extremely robust, surviving for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as glass found on mobile phone screens and plastic banknotes,” she added. “For context, similar experiments for Influenza-A have found that it survived on surfaces for 17 days, which highlights just how resilient SARS-CoV-2 is.”

At higher temperatures – at 30 and 40 degrees Celsius [86 and 104 Fahrenheit] – the survival times of the COVID virus decreased.

“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,” Dr. Eagles said.

Professor Trevor Drew, the director of ACDP, noted that many viruses can remain viable on surfaces outside their host.

“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, [by] touch [versus] droplets emitted by coughing,” Drew said. “Proteins and fats in body fluids can also significantly increase virus survival times. The research may also help to explain the apparent persistence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 in cool environments with high lipid [natural oils, waxes, and steroids] or protein contamination, such as meat processing facilities.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said that the virus that causes COVID-19 most commonly spreads when people are in close contact. However, CDC added that COVID-19 spreads less commonly through contact with contaminated surfaces.

Some academic experts criticized the Australian study on this basis. Professor Ron Eccles, former director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in Wales, said the study would lead to "unnecessary fear in the public.”

"Viruses are spread on surfaces from mucus in coughs and sneezes and dirty fingers and this [Australian] study did not use fresh human mucus as a vehicle to spread the virus," he told BBC.

Emanuel Goldman, professor of microbiology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said in research published in July that the “chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small, and only in instances where an infected person coughs or sneezes on the surface, and someone else touches that surface soon after the cough or sneeze.”

Similarly, Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, said the coronavirus did not spread on surfaces.

“There was a lot of fear at the beginning of the pandemic about fomite transmission,” Dr. Gandhi told science magazine Nautilus. “We now know the root of the spread is not from touching surfaces and touching your eye. It’s from being close to someone spewing virus from their nose and mouth, without in most cases knowing they are doing so.”