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Leading microbiologist calls for rethink on phone hygiene as lockdown eases

Jasper Hart
June 19, 2020

Smartphones have potential as “Trojan horses” for virus

British businesses and workers need to practise increased smartphone hygiene as they head back to office working, according to a leading microbiologist.

Dr Simon Clarke of Reading University is calling for an appraisal of smartphone cleanliness as lockdown restrictions ease, appealing to workers in shared environments

He said: “Smartphones are a reservoir for germs and have the potential to spread pathogens, such as the virus that causes Covid-19. We use them constantly, touch them with our hands and put them near our faces. When you cough or sneeze, droplets transfer to your phone – directly, or from your hands if they’ve been used as a shield.

Dr Simon Clarke

“The hand-washing message has really landed, but the minute you take your phone out of your pocket or bag, your hands are no longer clean. Improving and introducing new hygiene standards for all employees as we begin to return to the workplace is key.”

A recent scientific review from researchers at Australia’s Bond University found that smartphones have the capability to be “Trojan horses” for bacteria and viruses that bypass traditional cleaning methods.

While it has been too early for any in-depth study on the relationship between the spread of Covid-19 and smartphone use, Dr Clarke thinks that current evidence of how the virus is transmitted via respiratory droplets suggests that smartphones can be an effective carrier of the disease.

“Respiratory droplets will get onto a phone while in use, there’s no question about that,” he said. “You can get viruses into your system through your eyes, nose and mouth. Sharing a phone will be a way of transmitting the virus, as well as touching a door handle after using a phone.”

Dr Clarke has made a guide for phone use in a post-lockdown environment in partnership with Bullitt Group, manufacturer of rugged Cat phones.

Bullitt has recently highlighted the ability to wash its smartphones through total submersion in warm, soapy water.

It is increasingly common for non-rugged smartphones to have certifications for water resistance, but few can be washed to the same extent.

Advice in the guide includes: not to use your phone on public transport, not to place a phone down on a shared surface in a public space, using it only as necessary in the workplace, and using the speaker phone function if you are concerned about contamination.

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