Can you get COVID-19 from packages sent in the mail?

Coronavirus may be able to survive on surfaces for up to 24 hours, but your chances of catching it from packages are extremely low.

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The outbreak of COVID-19 has had people all over the world ordering household supplies in bulk to prepare for a quarantine situation. But is ordering online safer than venturing out to a store?

As experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus, it is not yet known just how long it can survive on surfaces. However, the NSW Government Health Department has said that studies suggest coronaviruses "may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days". It has also said that the length may vary depending on a number of factors including the type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment.

Recent studies by Harvard Medical School take things a step further. The school has now said that COVID-19 can "survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel".

Given this information, many people are now wondering if it is possible to pick up the virus from a package handled by an infected worker or delivery person.

Can packages carry coronavirus?

COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, meaning that it is possible for the virus to appear on surfaces such as packages if workers aren't careful.

However, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC have said that there is currently no evidence to support the theory that COVID-19 can be transmitted via packages, regardless of their origin.

In a Q&A segment on its site, WHO has stated that, "the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low".

Similarly, the CDC has said, "In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures".

Given that most parcels are also now sent in cardboard, and that few places deliver within a 24-hour timeframe, the likelihood of the virus remaining on your package by the time you receive it is basically non-existent.

Should you disinfect your mail?

If you are still concerned, you can take precautions with each package you receive. If you think a surface may be infected, the NSW Government Health Department recommends cleaning it with a common household disinfectant.

It also suggests washing your hands with soap and water or cleaning them with an alcohol-based hand rub after opening your package.

Should new clothing purchases be washed?

Given that it is extremely unlikely that COVID-19 can be spread via packages, any purchases you receive should be safe.

However, it is a general rule of thumb to wash any new clothing you receive anyway, as dyes can leach out of new clothing and cause skin reactions.

What should you do if your delivery person is sick?

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise around the world, companies and governments are implementing strict rules to stop further spread. Due to this, it is unlikely that anyone who is showing symptoms would still be allowed to work. However, as some people who have contracted COVID-19 do not show symptoms, there are things that you can do to protect yourself.

These include asking your delivery person to leave your parcels in a safe place rather than having them hand them to you. You should also avoid touching your face during and after having contact with the delivery person and wash hands with soap or an alcohol-based rub immediately afterwards. The use of parcel lockers is also encouraged at this time.

If your parcel is being delivered via Auspost, there is even less cause for concern. As Australia's public postal service, Auspost is now one of many businesses offering contact-free delivery.

All parcels delivered by Auspost will no longer be signed for by the recipient. Instead, the delivery driver will record the customer's name and sign on their behalf (recipient must be present at the time). Parcels will then be left on the recipient's doorstep rather than handed over.

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