Gulf News printing
Image of Gulf News printing press. The newspaper continues to print and distribute copies to subscribers and major markets as usual. Image Credit: Gulf News/archive

Dubai: There has never been an incident whereby the COVID-19 virus has been transmitted from a print newspaper, print magazine, print letter, or print package, according to the head of a global news media group, citing the top doctors and scientists.

Earl J. Wilkinson, Executive Director and CEO of International News Media Association (INMA), in a blog, wrote: "In recent days, INMA has received a few inquiries about this scientific possibility — to which we cited World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on the matter."

Arabic newspapers, magazines at a newstand: The unprecedented global pandemic triggered by COVID-19 naturally breeds a paranoia about everything we touch. Image Credit: AFP

"Yet the unprecedented global pandemic naturally breeds a paranoia about everything we touch, so let me present to you what INMA knows on this subject."

Wilkinson states: "This article distills research and guidance from four sources that debunk concerns," he said, citing sources from The World Health Organisation, The Journal of Hospital Infection, The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH), and John Innes Centre (MP3).

He cited numerous other sources in backing his claim.

What scientific research shows

"Here is what the WHO says about whether it’s safe to receive a package from an area where COVID-19 as been reported: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperate is also low.”

Hartford Healthcare put it more bluntly: “Don’t worry about deliveries to your house. Coronaviruses don’t last long on objects.”

"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says “it may be possible” for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Hedging for the unknown

"The WHO and CDC statements sound like a hedging of the unknown — fair enough in these times. Yet the fact remains there have been no incidents of transmission on print materials," wrote Wilkinson.

"A study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), UCLA, and Princeton University scientists published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine showed the varying stability of the coronavirus on different surfaces," he added.

"Across aerosols, plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard, the lowest levels of coronavirus transmission possibilities were via copper because of its atomic makeup and cardboard — presumably because of its porous nature," he wrote.

Emphasising that the virus spreads when transmitted by aerosols, researchers duplicated these droplets and measured how long they stayed infectious on surfaces.

Scientific studies show that the coronavirus lasts longest on smooth, non-porous surfaces. Researchers found the virus was still viable after three days on plastic and stainless steel.

Researchers say that is not as ominous as it sounds since the virus’ strength declines rapidly when exposed to air.

Because the virus loses half its potency every 66 minutes, it is only one-eighth as infectious after three hours when it first landed on a surface. Six hours later, viability is only 2% of the original, researchers found.

"The virus was not viable after 24 hours on cardboard — and the good news here, like plastic and stainless steel, is lower and lower potency when exposed to air."

Porous newsprint

For newsprint, which is much more porous than cardboard, virus viability is presumably even shorter.

In a March 13 Washington Post article, author Joel Achenbach put last week’s study in human terms:

“Outside, on an inanimate surface, the virus will gradually lose the ability to be an infectious agent. It may dry out, for example. It can degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

A person sneezing on a surface may deposit many thousands of virus participles, and some may remain viable for days. Still, the likelihood of a person who comes into contact with the remnants of that sneeze goes down over time, because most infections are the result of a large viral load.”

Cornell University infectious disease expert Gary Whittaker told The Post it typically takes “an army of viruses going in” to break through the natural defenses of a human being — meaning surface transmission is a low likelihood of transmission.


Wilkinson drew the following conclusions:

  1. 1.There has never been a reported incident of COVID-19 being transmitted via newsprint.
  2. 2.The early scientific research on virus transmission to inanimate surfaces suggests porous surfaces carry the lowest potency for the shortest period of time.
  3. 3.Newspapers are even more sterile because of the ink and the printing process they go through.
  4. 4.Publishers are protecting customers through health and safety precautions at printing plants, distribution centers, newsstands, and home delivery.

"We suggest these be talking points distributed to media company staffs as customers inquire. Be careful of elevating these points that might inadvertently create fears where none are warranted by the scientific evidence," he said.