Here's how to avoid coronavirus transmission from Christmas cards and parcels - according to a scientist

Monday, 23rd November 2020, 12:27 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd November 2020, 12:28 pm

More people than ever will be sending Christmas gifts in the post this year - but are packaging and envelopes safe from coronavirus?

You might be wondering if it's necessary to disinfect or quarantine parcels and cards to avoid picking up coronavirus from cardboard or paper.

With limited research on the longevity of coronavirus on materials like cardboard or paper, the advice around the subject has been mixed.

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"People haven't really looked at the survival of respiratory viruses on cardboard because it's not particularly useful from a healthcare perspective," explains Dr Sarah Pitt, from the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Brighton.

Most advice, she adds, is based on a study published earlier this year, conducted in a laboratory setting, which looked at the survival of SARS-2 (a respiratory virus) on paper. It found that the virus lasted for 12 hours in any setting. Researchers also found that virus samples lasted for less than 48 hours on bank notes.

Dr Pitt notes that the study used an "artifically high" amount of the virus on the materials - a level that you'd be less likely to encounter on paper or bank notes in real life.

This means, she says, "you're looking at less than 12 hours on paper, on cardboard possibly less than 24 hours."

Practice precaution

The likelihood of actually catching coronavirus from a parcel or envelope is, therefore, fairly low, with often a stretch of several days between the parcel being sent and actually arriving.

That chance isn't zero, however, and Dr Pitt adds that it "won't hurt" to practice precaution by wiping down or quarantining parcels and envelopes before opening them.

"After I've done my shopping I just get a washing up cloth with some washing up liquid on it and wipe everything off," she explains.

"If the cloth isn't too wet you can do the same with parcels and envelopes.

"The other thing you can do is just stick [the letter or parcel] in a shed or cupboard, wash your hands and don't go back and touch it for 24 hours. By that time, if there was any virus on there, it will have died.

"It's probably over-cautious but it won't do any harm".