COVID-19 Omicron variant
Image Credit: REUTERS

The Omicron variant can survive longer than earlier versions of the coronavirus on plastic surfaces and human skin, Japanese researchers found in laboratory tests.

Its high "environmental stability" - its ability to remain infectious - might have helped Omicron replace Delta as the dominant variant and spread rapidly, they said. On plastic surfaces, average survival times of the original strain and the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants were 56 hours, 191.3 hours, 156.6 hours, 59.3 hours, and 114.0 hours, respectively.

That compared to 193.5 hours for Omicron, the researchers reported on ahead of peer review. On skin samples from cadavers, average virus survival times were 8.6 hours for the original version, 19.6 hours for Alpha, 19.1 hours for Beta, 11.0 hours Gamma, 16.8 hours for Delta and 21.1 hours for Omicron.

On skin, all of the variants were completely inactivated by 15 seconds of exposure to alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

"Therefore," the researchers conclude, "it is highly recommended that current infection control (hand hygiene) practices use disinfectants... as proposed by the World Health Organization."