One aspect that has been unclear is exactly how long Sars-CoV-2, the name of the virus that causes the disease Covid-19, can survive outside the human body. Some studies on other coronaviruses, including Sars and Mers, found they can survive on metal, glass and plastic for as long as nine days, unless they are properly disinfected. Some can even hang around for up to 28 days in low temperatures.
Their study, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that the virus could survive in droplets for up to three hours after being coughed out into the air. Fine droplets between 1-5 micrometres in size – about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair – can remain airborne for several hours in still air.
It means that the virus circulating in unfiltered air conditioning systems will only persist for a couple of hours at the most, especially as aerosol droplets tend to settle on surfaces faster in disturbed air.
But the NIH study found that the Sars-CoV-2 virus survives for longer on cardboard – up to 24 hours – and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces.