Cleaning your phone is better at stopping the coronavirus than wearing a mask

[13 February 2020] Regularly cleaning your phone and washing your hands is a better way to fight the coronavirus spread than wearing a mask, Singapore’s health ministry said on Wednesday (Feb 12) after a homemade advisory by four local doctors urging locals to don masks while in public went viral on WhatsApp.

The advisory, dated Feb 10 and signed by doctors Colleen Thomas, Judy Chen, Tham Hoe Meng and Lim Pin Pin called for Singaporeans to “wear a mask always when leaving home” and avoid mingling in public, claiming this could stop community spread of the coronavirus within 2 weeks.

However, the Ministry of Health’s director of medical services, Kenneth Mak, said at a press conference on Wednesday that despite “a lot of well-intentioned advice” from various quarters, including doctors, there was no evidence that the virus was airborne, making masks an ineffective method of protection.

He added that a more important task was for people to to clean their handphones.

The Straits Times quoted him as saying: “Be aware of things you commonly touch. The thing most commonly touched is your phone, so wearing a mask is not the most important thing.”

The right way to sanitise your phone

A big no-no: spraying alcohol solution directly on the phone. Pixabay

Various scientific studies have found that smartphones contain more germs than toilet seats. They are among the dirtiest items a person owns, due to how often they are handled, and the fact that many people bring their phones to the toilet, where faecal matter collects – meaning a quick and immediate way to limit contamination is to avoid taking your phone to the toilet.

Worse, phones are often held up to our eyes, nose and lips – key points where the coronavirus infects the human body.

According to a 2018 study by four researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sanitising phones with a UV smartphone sanitiser device was the most effective method at killing germs.

Both Gerba and CNet said to avoid spraying the alcohol solution directly on the phone or using antibacterial wipes on the screen, as this could strip off its water- and oil-proof coating.

However, antibacterial wipes can be used to clean the phone case.

According to CNet, other items that should not be used to clean a phone include: window cleaner, kitchen cleaner, makeup remover, dish soap, hand soap, and vinegar.

When no other sanitization options were available, even just physically wiping the phone with a microfiber clothalso provided some decontamination, the 2018 study found.