No proof coronavirus can be spread while shopping, says leading German virologist

There is no evidence that coronavirus can be spread by shopping or going to the hairdresser, a leading German virologist has said.

Professor Hendrik Streeck, leading the first comprehensive study of a town that suffered a major coronavirus outbreak, told German television his initial findings suggested the virus may not be as easily transmitted as previously thought.

Prof Streeck’s team carried out an intensive search of the home of a family infected with the virus but found no trace of it on surfaces, he said.

“We did not find any live virus on any surface. Not on cellphones, not on taps, not on doorknobs,” he told the Markus Lanz talk show on ZDF television. His team even examined the fur of the family’s pet cat but found no trace of the virus.

The virologist said his initial findings challenged many of the assumptions behind current lockdown measures around the world.

“We talk a lot about speculation and models, but only one factor has to be wrong and then the whole thing collapses like a house of cards,” Prof Streeck said. 

There have been widespread calls in Germany for face masks to be made compulsory at supermarkets, but Prof Streeck said: “There are no proven infections while shopping or at the hairdresser.” He stressed that he was not calling for lockdown measures to be lifted, but argued that not enough is yet known about the virus.

Prof Streeck has led the response to the coronavirus in one Germany’s worst affected regions, North Rhine-Westphalia, and diagnosed thousands of patients.

He is leading a detailed study in Gangelt, a town in the Heinsberg district which saw the first major coronavirus outbreak in Germany.

Prof Streeck pointed to the country’s first recorded case, a woman who travelled to Germany from China and infected colleagues at work, as evidence for his analysis. “This woman would have stayed in a hotel, eaten in the restaurant, but only infected her colleagues,” he said. “So we know that eating in a restaurant or working in a hotel is not responsible for the infection. 

“The virus spreads in other places: the party in Ischgl, the club in Berlin, the football game in Bergamo.”

Ischgl, a ski resort in Austria known for its nightlife, is believed to have been a major centre of the European outbreak where the virus was spread by drinking games in which people shared glasses.

“We know it’s not a smear infection that is transmitted by touching objects, but that close dancing and exuberant celebrations have led to infections,” said Prof Streeck. “Now it is time to find the nuances in between.”

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