How long can coronaviruses survive in a freezer? Up to two years, warns expert

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The COVID-19 coronavirus could last up to two years at below freezing temperatures if it is similar to coronaviruses from the same family, according to a medical expert from the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

COVID-19 is the latest member of the coronavirus family of viruses to emerge globally, sweeping the world in a pandemic which has killed over 8,100 people. Although the latest coronavirus is still new, and therefore there is a lot unknown about it, health officials have warned that it is spread both via human-to-human contact and via surfaces.

Read more: Coronavirus exists in air for hours, days on contaminated surfaces: Report

While some have voiced hope that extreme temperatures may help kill off the virus, one expert warned that the rest of the coronavirus family has the ability to withstand freezing temperatures – and the new form could be equally persistent.

“Research into similar coronavirus strains has shown that, in general, coronaviruses are stable in freezing temperatures and have been shown to survive for up to two years at -20 degrees Celsius,” explained Dr. Mohamad Mooty, Department Chair, Infectious Diseases, Medical Subspecialty Institute, at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

Given that studies on SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, two recent coronavirus outbreaks, showed that viruses could survive for up to 72 hours at the average temperature of a fridge (4 degrees Celsius), Dr. Mooty said, “It is safe for us to assume that the virus responsible for COVID-19 might be similarly persistent.”

If the new coronavirus is as persistent as its predecessors, it could survive on surfaces in freezers long after authorities aim to have suppressed the pandemic – living on food packaging in a freezer, for example.

“While we do not know the specifics of how long this virus can survive on surfaces, it is best to be safe and act as though it is able to survive on surfaces in freezing temperatures for anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of years,” said Dr. Mooty.

Read more: Coronavirus: What to disinfect at home to avoid infection

Good hygiene, social distancing key to protection

However, health authorities continue to focus on maintaining good hygiene and avoiding human-to-human contact through social distancing and isolation as the main means of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“With that said, there is no undue cause for concern,” said Dr. Mooty.

“There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is passed on through food. By practicing regular hand hygiene, people can minimize their risk of contracting the virus from surfaces such as door handles, elevator buttons and frozen food boxes,” he added.

“People are significantly more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 by coming into close contact with infected people. By avoiding crowded areas, practicing social distancing and regular handwashing, I am confident that people can protect themselves from infection.”

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