In findings that have not been reviewed yet by other scientists, research showed the virus could also live in the air for several hours, AP reported.
However, researchers stress the results don’t prove that anyone has been infected by breathing the virus from the air or touching contaminated surfaces.
The tests by US Government and other scientists were posted Wednesday on a site where researchers can quickly share their work before publication.
“We’re not by any way saying there is aerosolised transmission of the virus,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases study leader Neeltje van Doremalen told AP.
But she said the work showed the virus was able to stay viable for long periods in those conditions, so it was theoretically possible.
The tests found the virus could be detected up to three hours later in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Researchers say the results were similar to ones achieved with the 2003 SARS outbreak so differences in the durability of the viruses don’t explain why the coronavirus has spread so widely.
The tests were done at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Lab in Hamilton, Montana, by scientists from the NIH, Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, with funding from the US government and the National Science Foundation.
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Researchers are looking into the best way to kill the virus but van Doremalen said it was likely that cleaning surfaces with solutions containing diluted bleach would get rid of it.
Julie Fischer, a microbiology professor at Georgetown University, said people needed to keep following good hygiene practices.
“What we need to be doing is washing our hands, being aware that people who are infected may be contaminating surfaces,” and keeping hands away from the face, she told AP.
On Wednesday (local time) the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak was a pandemic. More than 121,000 people in 118 countries have been infected and over 4300 people have died of the virus.
“The WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”