Coronavirus: Clothes touched by customers may need to be ‘quarantined’ as scientists say they don’t know how long virus can survive on fabrics

Matt Mathers
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Garments tried on in shops may need to be put in quarantine before going back on sale, it has been suggested, as concerns grow over the reopening of clothing outlets.

While bacteria and viruses such as coronavirus and flu can linger on hard surfaces for days, there remains a lack of evidence on how long Covid-19 can survive on soft surfaces.

Bill Keevil, professor of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton, says it is not yet known how long the coronavirus can live on clothes and fabrics.

Speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, Prof Keevil said: “The issue is now coming down to things like clothes, fabrics. Should people touch them?

“If people have washed their hands properly, you might argue that there shouldn’t be a transmission risk onto the fabrics.

“But people are now suggesting if you try on a garment and you don’t want it, that garment should be put into quarantine for several days before it’s then being put back onto the shelves.”

The Independent has approached Public Health England for comment.

In April, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) released guidance asking businesses to consider closing or limiting acess to changing rooms in shops under strict social distancing measures.

Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive, said at the time: “Retailers are closely following developments from government on when restrictions might be eased and are starting to plan accordingly.

“The safety and wellbeing of colleagues and customers remains the highest priority and these guidelines aim to support everyone in the industry.”

Prof Keevil, principal investigator at Southampton’s microbiology unit, also warned that thorough hand-washing regimes would need to become part of every day life on the high street to help stop the spread of the virus.

“They (superbug bacteria and viruses) all can survive days on a touch surface, that may surprise people,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to wash hands and also regularly clean all touch surfaces.

“In terms of shops, when you go into a shop you’re obviously careful about trolley handles, door handles, this kind of stuff, they should certainly be kept regularly clean.”

Prof Keevil’s comments come after Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that most non-essential retailers in England will be allowed to reopen from 15 June as part of plans to further ease lockdown restrictions.

Outdoor markets and car showrooms can resume business from 1 June, the prime minister added, although the move is “contingent on progress in the fight against coronavirus”.

Mr Johnson said that new guidance had been published designed for the retail sector “detailing the measures they should take to meet the necessary social distancing and hygiene standards”.

“Shops now have the time to implement this guidance before they reopen,” he added. “This will ensure there can be no doubt about what steps they should take.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Enabling these businesses to open will be a critical step on the road to rebuilding our economy, and will support millions of jobs across the UK.”

The BRC welcomed the move, saying the government’s announcement meant provided “much-needed clarity on the route ahead”.

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