W.H.O. Warns Countries Against Spraying Streets with Disinfectant

Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in the capital Tehran in a bid to halt the wild spread of coronavirus

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) warned countries this weekend against spraying disinfectants on the streets in an effort to contain the Chinese coronavirus, arguing that it does not reduce the risk of contagion and may present health risks.

In a document providing advice on the cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces to reduce the virus’s spread, the W.H.O. said using spraying or fumigating streets was “not recommended.”

“Spraying or fumigation of outdoor spaces, such as streets or marketplaces, is … not recommended to kill the Covid-19 [Chinese] virus or other pathogens because disinfectant is inactivated by dirt and debris,” the organization said. “Even in the absence of organic matter, chemical spraying is unlikely to adequately cover all surfaces for the duration of the required contact time needed to inactivate pathogens.”

Despite the large number of people passing through, the W.H.O. added that streets and pavements are generally not considered “reservoirs of infection,” and that using them could be “dangerous for human health.”

“This could be physically and psychologically harmful and would not reduce an infected person’s ability to spread the virus through droplets or contact,” said the document. “Spraying chlorine or other toxic chemicals on people can cause eye and skin irritation, bronchospasm, and gastrointestinal effects.”

Experts also warn against the excessive spraying of disinfectant in indoor spaces, citing a study that found that it does not work on spaces that are not directly sprayed.

“If disinfectants are to be applied, this should be done with a cloth or wipe that has been soaked in disinfectant,” it says.

The virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year, has so far killed over 300,000 people worldwide and is understood to be able to spread by attaching itself to objects and surfaces.

Some countries, including Iran and India, have sprayed disinfectant in the streets in the hope that it will reduce contagion. Both countries have recorded more than 100,000 cases, making them two of the most severely hit countries in the world. Yet given India’s population of around 1.35 billion, this still remains a relatively low figure in proportion to other countries.

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