Observations on Safety Procedures to Combat Covid-19 by Former CEO of British Society for Immunology

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Smoking banned: Smoking in public could spread virus particles Credit: Robert Wallace flickr

The following was posted as a comment by Dr Marcus Stephan who now lives on the Costa del Sol but was considered interesting and important enough to publish on this website.

NO-ONE can possibly disagree with the fact that Spain has suffered very badly as a result of Covid-19.

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The ‘lockdown’ measures have been, using any measure, largely successful and the government should be commended as should the vast majority of the population for adhering to the rules.

However, as a former CEO of the British Society for Immunology, I am increasingly becoming frustrated by the over importance being given to what we refer to as ‘fomite transmission.’ This virus spreads in droplet form from one person to another, there is no doubt about that and so keeping your distance is not only a good idea but the science tells us to do this.

Fomite transmission is what happens when an infected person coughs or sneezes on their hands and they then touch a surface. You then come along and touch the contaminated surface and manage to pick up enough viable virus and then you rub that into your eyes, mouth, or nose. If you do that well enough you may become infected.


There are a lot of ‘ifs’ to consider, but yes, it is just possible. However, bear all this in mind, first of course viruses are not living things, just tiny specks of stuff and they don’t remain viable outside their preferred host for very long.

So, to put it delicately a droplet of human nasal fluid containing virus particles that lands on a hard surface needs to get picked up by you fairly quickly if it is going to do its business and make you sick.


If the droplet dries out, I’m afraid the virus particles have had it, likewise if the droplet gets exposed to sunlight, heat, or any well-known cleaning fluid same thing goes. So, you have to be fairly quick off the mark to scrape the virus particles up and make sure they get into you if you want to stand any chance of getting sick.

I’m not making light of the fact that if you are in a particular category and you do pick up this virus the consequences can be severe, but I also think it is important we alter our behaviour based on the science.

All this talk of disinfecting sunbeds and disposable menus in restaurants is too much icing on the cake in my view, not just that but for some people this is increasing their anxiety about going out and that can lead to all sorts of other undesirable complications.

If you add a dose of common sense and good manners to the science, we have a near perfect solution until a vaccine arrives. By far and away the most important thing any of us can do is to wash our hands before we fiddle with our faces – and that is extremely difficult to do, but if we can do it so much the better.

So even if you did manage to get someone else’s infected secretions all over your hand so long as you don’t touch your face until you have washed your hands all is OK. The virus doesn’t get absorbed through your skin by the way.

The wearing of masks is something you won’t get scientists or medics necessarily in agreement when it comes to using them in general. Let’s be 100 per cent clear, they do not protect you in any way shape or form of breathing in someone else’s sneeze or cough, you need a very special mask for that and these are not generally available.

As a means of cutting down what you might spread if you are infected, so long as you keep it on, they are probably a good idea. Going for a walk in the fresh air or sitting on one of our lovely beaches presents no risk.

The risk only really becomes a reality if you are in a closed in space and you have someone coughing or sneezing all over the place and the air starts to fill with microscopic droplets that don’t get blown away and diluted.

It’s rather what happened sadly on the cruise ships where people were confined to cabins and the efficient air conditioning system managed to pipe contaminated air from cabin to cabin.

So back to contaminated surfaces, there is a lot of scientific data that shows you need to literally pick up lots, possibly millions, of virus particles for the hand to nose route to be effective, but we believe you need far less if you manage to breath in a someone’s sneeze and that gets directly to your lungs.

So there really is no need to be over concerned about touching a supermarket trolley and why your payment card might require a touch pad to be sanitised I’m afraid I cannot explain except to say that this is an example of science taking a back seat and paranoia muscling in.

One thing Spain hasn’t ruled against, and I certainly would, is to stop anyone smoking in public, because you see this virus attacks the respiratory system and exhaled smoke will contain virus particles so if you can smell someone else’s smoke then you might be breathing in virus.

The rules being put in place on our beaches for example have very good intentions, but they are a mess. Not only are they a mess but they will add further damage to our much-needed tourism economy, let’s not forget that the vast majority of coastal towns in Spain depend on tourism.

Show me a peer-reviewed scientific article that indicates the use of a Lilo in the water presents a real risk of infection. If fomite transmission was a good as we are being led to believe then all the filthy coins and bank notes we pass around between us would be infecting us like wildfire.

Use a tissue when you sneeze and then throw it away, wash your hands before you touch your face. If you think you are infected then do the decent thing and stay at home – alone. But don’t be afraid to go out and enjoy this lovely part of Spain, all of us just need to take sensible personal responsibility.




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