Coronavirus can be on handrails for 72 hours – but no need to avoid bus or train

People could pick up Coronavirus from bus and train handrails for up to 72 hours, but that does not mean people need to avoid public transport, England's Chief Medical Officer has said.

Professor Chris Whitty said the droplets that lead to COVID-19 infection can stay on a "hard" surface for up to three days.

However, he said they would in most cases be "largely gone" within 48 hours.

And he stressed that actually touching a handrail is not a problem, as long as people wash their hands before touching their faces.

The medical expert made the comments to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee.

Asked about the risk of catching it from a bus or tube rail Prof Whitty explained: "There will be some risk of transmission and the risk peaks immediately after they've done it and goes down over time.

"It's probably largely gone by 48 hours and almost completely gone by 72 hours on a hard surface. Soft surfaces viruses last for a shorter period.

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"Just touching it will not give you the virus. It's if you touch it and then touch your face having not washed your hands between them.

"If you go on the tube and touch a rail that's fine but just be aware of what you do with your hands.

"Don't touch your face, wash your hands and then you can do what you like."

Prof Chris Whitty answered questions as he said authorities are now chiefly in the "delay" rather than the "contain" phase of the outbreak, which causes the illness COVID-19.

There are now 93,090 confirmed cases of the virus – 80,422 of them in China – and almost 3,200 deaths.

There are around 90 cases in the UK and no deaths so far.

Prof Whitty also told MPs:

  • Older people or the already ill may soon be told to avoid crowded places to avoid infection
  • Up to 80% of Brits may get the virus, but probably fewer (he repeated)
  • 1% of those infected are expected to die, but that's an 'upper limit' (he repeated)
  • There will likely be a 'long period' between an epidemic being declared and its peak

  • 'A year would be lucky' to get a vaccine despite clinical trials in the coming months

  • Authorities WILL give regular updates on case locations after a row, but not 'street level' data

  • There is no need for the public to stockpile food, medicine or other supplies

Prof Whitty described it as "primarily a respiratory droplet infection". He explained: "That means someone who coughs and sneezes usually within a couple of metres of someone and usually for reasonably prolonged contact – that's the usual way with these. And probably a secondary route via hands.

"The way that hands do this is by touching mouth, nose and eyes and for the great majority of people the only people they allow to touch their eyes, noes and mouth, noes and eyes are themselves, their partners or their children."

But he said the reason it is so critical people wash their hands because it is the only way to stop germs that are on surfaces.

Professor Whitty explained that the virus doesn't stay on hands very long and it doesn't transmit from skin to skin.

He told MPs that, if people are concerned about touching rails on public transport, the virus may stay on those surfaces but will decrease over time. However long it's been there, though, people won't be vulnerable to it unless they then touch their face.

He stressed: "Washing hands is really the key".

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