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'Smartphone hygiene' could help prevent spread of coronavirus at work

How often do you touch your phone at work — and how often do you clean it?

Companies should be encouraging increased ‘smartphone hygiene’ as employees return to their offices and workplaces after lockdown, according to a leading microbiologist.

Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, said that employers and employees need to think carefully about how smartphones are used and treated, particularly at work and on public transport where they risk becoming contaminated with coronavirus.

“Smartphones are a reservoir for germs and have the potential to spread pathogens, such as the virus that causes Covid-19,” he said.

“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.

“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.”

Research from Bond University in Australia published in April found that smartphones are potential ‘Trojan horses’ in contributing to the spread of infections, including during epidemics and pandemics.

There has not yet been any in-depth study on the spread of Covid-19 and phone use, but smartphones are likely to be an effective carrier of the disease as the virus is transmitted via respiratory droplets, Dr Clarke explained.

Together with Bullitt Group, manufacturer of rugged Cat phones, Dr Clarke has compiled a guide for safe smartphone post-lockdown. The advice includes avoiding using your phone on public transport, not putting it down on shared surfaces such as tables or counters, and minimising personal phone use in the workplace as much as possible. It’s also good practice to clean your phone and wash your hands before leaving for work and as soon as you arrive.

See our earlier blog for advice on how to safely clean your smartphone.

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