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Covid-19 spread in offices during lockdown 2021

According to the BBC NEWS team, there has been over 60 confirmed outbreaks of covid-19 during the lockdown this year. The Government has made it clear, since 6th January 2021 people are expected to work from home if possible to help reduce the possible spread.

Banning work in centralised offices isn’t just a precaution – offices have been, and are, prime sites for the spread of viruses and bacteria. You’re likely familiar with cycle: every season, a bug will go around. One person will arrive at the office – sneezing, coughing – and will pass on whatever virus they have to their colleagues. And the cycle will continue. Every season, a bug will go around. You know what comes next.

Researchers have shown that bugs, germs, viruses and bacteria spread easily in an office. Krissi Hewitt, director of institutional research and strategic initiatives at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, has researched the diversity and abundance of microbial life in offices.

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In other words, many of the high-touch areas in your office could be vectors for the spread of virus. And the more colleagues that touch them, the higher the risk of contamination. Jonathan Sexton, a researcher at the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, found that places such as refrigerators, drawer handles, faucet handles, push-out exit doors and coffee pots tend to have the highest concentrations of germs.

Dirty fingers and desks are one thing, but the biggest risk for the spread of virus is what’s travelling through the air.

“The great risk is not from the [office] building but from sick employees,” says Dr Ali Khan, an epidemiologist and professor at the College of Public Health UNMC at the University of Nebraska. “If one person is sick, he or she could spread the germs through coughing and sneezing, touching surfaces and contacting others closely. Even staying at their private desks, germs can also be spread by the flying droplets which settle on any surface and cause contamination”.

The circulated air of offices can also contribute to the spread of microbes. Hewitt says that in indoor environments, microbial life is circulated through the air and within HVAC systems.

Research by Arup, the engineering, design, and consultancy firm, has given more reason for concern. Using software to model the motion of air and simulate crowds, researchers have demonstrated how aerosols — the microscopic droplets we breathe out — move through a typical, well-ventilated office space.

The simulation, based on Arup’s own offices, shows an 80 per cent increase in people exposed to aerosols exhaled by colleagues when offices are full. Researchers found that office partitions can create stubborn pockets of aerosols across the a floor.

An earlier study in the same journal looked at an outbreak among 10 diners at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China in January. The diners were sitting at three separate tables and researchers believe that airflow from an air conditioning unit could have spread droplets between the three groups.

The question over how the disease is transmitted has been given added urgency in recent days after a group of more than 200 scientists wrote an open letter to the WHO urging officials to recognise the possibility of airborne transmission of the virus.

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