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October 19, 2020

Coronavirus survives on skin five times longer than flu; Swiss imposes mask order for indoor public spaces


October 19, 2020

PARIS/Tokyo: Shortly before the clock struck 9 pm on Sunday, restaurant shutters in Paris came down and people dashed home to beat a strict new curfew to battle the coronavirus outbreak.

Police patrolled streets which would ordinarily be bustling with party-goers to enforce the new anti-mingling measure as the country notched up a record of more than 32,000 positive Covid-19 tests in 24 hours, with 1,868 people in intensive care.

Densely-populated Paris has been an infection hotspot, with bars already shuttered since October 6 although restaurants and other establishments that serve food were allowed to stay open.

Alcohol sales are prohibited from 10 pm and face masks are compulsory in public both indoors and outside. But there has been concern over people, especially youngsters, flouting face coverings and social distancing rules to gather in groups on restaurant terraces and in other public places.

This prompted the government to announce a 9 pm to 6 am curfew for Paris and a dozen other French cities -- some 20 million inhabitants in all -- and impose a limit of six on home gatherings blamed for a large proportion of new infections.

The curfew will remain in place for at least four weeks. At 10 pm on Sunday, the streets of the City of Light were eerily empty apart from a few stragglers risking a 135-euro ($158) fine unless they can provide a certificate to show they have good reason to be out and about.

"I’m coming back from the hospital Curie where my daughter is being operated on. They gave me this proof," one man tells a group of police officers, presenting a piece of paper. "That’s fine, good evening sir," one replied as he handed back the document.

Food delivery employees zigzagged the streets on bikes or scooters, bringing meals to now home-bound diners in a city where it is common to sit down to a meal after 9 pm. A handful of municipal buses circulated without impediment down unusually car-free lanes, though mostly empty themselves. Metros and trains also continue operating to ferry people who have no choice but to break the curfew, whether for work or medical reasons.

Paris has not known a curfew since 1961, which was limited at the time to Muslims amid unrest over the Algerian war of independence from France.

Before that, a curfew was in place in the capital during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II. On Saturday, a total of 1,350 police and gendarmes were deployed in Paris and its suburbs to ensure compliance with the latest restrictions -- the strictest since a two-month lockdown ended in May. "It is telling. It is 9 pm and there is no-one left," police commissioner Patrick Caron said as the curfew took effect.

"It is no longer time for education (about the measures) but for sanction," he added. Fines can increase to 3,750 euros or prison time for multiple infractions.

But for the first night at least, members of Caron’s police team in the Latin Quarter -- a favourite with students and tourists -- were left twiddling their thumbs and musing among themselves about the strange times we are living in.

Curfews are also in place in the cities of Lille, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Saint-Etienne, Aix-Marseille, Rouen and Grenoble.

Meanwhile, the Swiss government said on Sunday it was making the wearing of masks in indoor public spaces compulsory under new measures introduced after a "worrying" rise in coronavirus infections.

It said gatherings of more than 15 people in public would also be banned under the rules to take effect on Monday, while service in restaurants and bars would be restricted to seated customers only.

According to a latest report, the coronavirus remains active on human skin for nine hours, Japanese researchers have found, in a discovery they said showed the need for frequent hand washing to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pathogen that causes the flu survives on human skin for about 1.8 hours by comparison, said the study published this month in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal.

"The nine-hour survival of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus strain that causes Covid-19) on human skin may increase the risk of contact transmission in comparison with IAV (influenza A virus), thus accelerating the pandemic," it said.

The research team tested skin collected from autopsy specimens, about one day after death. Both the coronavirus and the flu virus are inactivated within 15 seconds by applying ethanol, which is used in hand sanitisers.

"The longer survival of SARS-CoV-2 on the skin increases contact-transmission risk; however, hand hygiene can reduce this risk," the study said.

The study backs World Health Organisation guidance for regular and thorough hand washing to limit transmission of the virus, which has infected nearly 40 million people around the world since it first emerged in China late last year.