Posted on March 23, 2020

In the wake of the current global outbreak of COVID-19, we ask experts at QEERI, part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, to explain how the virus is spread, what can be done to reduce our risk of contracting the illness, and the importance of proper sanitation during a pandemic.

Attributed to Dr. Oluwaseun Ogunbiyi, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute

Why is it so important to wash your hands with soap and water? 

Ordinary soap diluted in water is sufficient to rupture and kill many different types of bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19. It is generally accepted to be more effective than using hand sanitizer; however, high alcohol content sanitizer should be considered where soap and water is not available.

Why is access to proper sanitation so crucial?

Handwashing with soap, when done correctly, is critical in the fight against the coronavirus; however, according to UNICEF, there are millions of people worldwide who do not have ready access. In total, only three out of five people worldwide have basic hand washing facilities, which increases the risk of contracting the virus.

Attributed to Dr. Deema Al-Masri (pictured), Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute

Can COVID-19 contaminate drinking water or tap water?

To date, COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water supplies globally. Municipal drinking water systems utilize filtration and chlorination steps that are generally thought to be effective in activating COVID-19. COVID-19 is also unlikely to be found in bottled water itself. However, given the suspected lifespan of COVID-19 on plastic, when buying bottled water from a supermarket or water delivery, care should be taken with handling of the packaging.

Can COVID-19 survive in sewage water?

The COVID-19 virus is an enveloped virus, with a fragile outer membrane. Generally, enveloped viruses are less stable in the environment and are more susceptible to oxidants, such as chlorine. While there is no evidence to date about survival of the COVID-19 virus in water or sewage, the virus is likely to become inactivated faster than non-enveloped human enteric viruses with known waterborne transmission. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted in wastewater treatment systems or in treated wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants treat viruses and other bacteria. WHO recommends the use of standard, well-maintained plumbing, such as sealed bathroom drains, and backflow valves on sprayers and faucets to prevent aerosolized fecal matter from entering the plumbing or ventilation system, together with standard wastewater treatment.

Community advice from HBKU 2 [].jpg

Attributed to Dr. Jenny Lawler, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute


How does COVID-19 spread?

The virus is contracted when someone comes in direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person, usually through coughing and sneezing. The virus can also be passed on by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face, even when outside. The coronavirus may survive on surfaces anywhere from several hours up to two to three days, with the most recent study indicating that the virus can be found after up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

What are some of the measures that can be taken to limit the spread of COVID-19?

There are a number of prevention measures that can be adopted to minimize the risk of infection. These include:

  • Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Ensuring that surfaces are properly cleaned and disinfected often.
  • Ensuring that you cover your mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Disposing of any used tissues immediately and effectively.
  • Staying at home and practicing social distancing.
  • Self-isolating if unwell.
  • Monitoring that ablution areas make soap and hand sanitizers readily available to ensure visitors comply with hygiene practices.