Stay informed! Visit the SA Department of Health's website for COVID-19 updates:

Viruses: does hand sanitiser really work, and should you disinfect your phone?

We’re fact-checking common advice on coronavirus prevention


Viruses: does hand sanitiser really work, and should you disinfect your phone?

Understanding the facts around coronavirus and following sound advice is the key to staying safe. However, there is still misinformation out there that has caused confusion, leaving many South Africans struggling to know what to do. Here are a few frequently asked questions that may help you to separate fact from fiction.

Do I need to disinfect my phone?

As we know, viruses can live on surfaces for days. Therefore, it’s essential that you always clean and disinfects items that you use often. Because phones are always in use, and probably even more so now that most of the country is working remotely, this should be added to your cleaning rotation.

It may not necessarily be a higher risk than other frequently touched objects (like your wallet, purse or keys, for example), especially if you are the only one using it. However, if you have shared your cell phone with anyone else or taken it with you when visiting a busy area or used on public transport, make sure you clean it thoroughly. Major smartphone manufacturers have recently announced that it is safe to clean your phone with disinfecting wipes or wipes containing 70 percent isopropyl alcohol.

They do warn against using abrasive chemicals as well as antibacterial hand gels on your device – it can damage the screen’s protective coating. Also, refrain from submerging your phone in any cleaning agent. Don’t have wipes handy? Using household soap and water does the trick just as well, as this instructional video from the BBC shows.

How to clean your phone to reduce the spread of viruses:

  • Dampen a microfibre cloth in a solution of soap and water 
  • Gently rub any hard, nonporous surfaces on your phone, paying close attention to avoid getting any moisture into the ports or openings.
  • Dry your phone with a clean microfibre cloth.

It’s essential to do this often, as our devices are quick to pick up microbes as soon as they are touched.

Is soap or hand sanitiser best for stopping the coronavirus?

Washing hands with warm water and soap remain the absolute best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Wash hands especially after cleaning soiled surfaces or removing old stains on clothes.

If soap and water aren’t available, alcohol-based hand sanitisers containing at least 60 percent alcohol can also be a practical alternative. However, both the WHO and the Western Cape Government recommend using soap and water as your first port of call.

If you are using hand sanitiser, make sure to work the gel into all parts of your hands, including the webs of your fingers, your fingernails, knuckles, back of the hand and even your wrists. Like with handwashing, rub it in for at least 20 seconds.

If your hands are visibly dirty (this can be especially true for kids), then definitely try to stick to soap and water as it is more productive – the friction of washing helps reduce the number of microbes on your hands, along with the dirt and any other organic materials.

Should I be wearing a mask?

The short answer – probably not. While pharmacy shelves struggle to keep up with the demand for face masks, official guidelines stress that if you are healthy, you don’t need to wear a mask (unless you are caring for someone who may be infected by the coronavirus). In the majority of cases, wearing a disposable mask will not help protect you from the virus as they are not designed to keep out viral particles. If you are ill, however, they can help keep germs from your nose and mouth from reaching others, though it’s vital to remember that you should stay at home if you are showing any coronavirus symptoms.

Should I be disinfecting my post as coronavirus prevention?

Health experts agree that it is highly unlikely that you can catch the coronavirus from packages and letters, even if they were sent from affected areas, so there is no need to spray down that parcel. While viruses can live outside the body and on surfaces (which is why you should regularly clean high touch areas), they can’t last as long as it takes for mail to be sent from places like Italy and China to the UK.

Originally published