Far-UVC Technology and Masks May Be the Key to Saving Retail

Donald Trump Gave Us A Clue To How To Save Retail, It’s Just That We Didn’t Take Him Seriously

By Andrew Busby, Forbes


Back in April, President Donald Trump was widely and rightly ridiculed for claiming that people should inject themselves with disinfectant and fire UV light under their skin in order to cure themselves of the COVID-19 coronavirus. But on one of those points he was closer to the truth than perhaps even he realised.

Fast forward to July in the U.K. and after months of denying their effectiveness, based on the scientific evidence available, today heralds the biggest hint that the government is about to mandate the wearing of face coverings when inside shops.

Speaking in a Facebook Q&A video, Boris Johnson hinted at the change saying: “We are looking at ways of making sure that people really do have face coverings in shops.”

Adding, “the balance of scientific opinion seems to have shifted more in favour of them than it was, and we’re very keen to follow that”.

While it has been known for some time that the virus can be spread by droplets from the nose and throat landing on surfaces and then being transmitted by touch, this shift from the government comes at a time when the World Health Organisation (WHO) is now acknowledging that indoors, the virus can stay suspended in the air and thus be transmitted in that way.

On the WHO’s website, it states that, “There have been reported outbreaks of COVID-19 in some closed settings, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship or places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing. In these outbreaks, aerosol transmission, particularly in these indoor locations where there are crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected persons spend long periods of time with others, cannot be ruled out”.

If, as appears likely, the mandatory wearing of a face covering while in a store is implemented, the implications for retail will be far-reaching. Because while in other countries, most notably in south-east Asia, the wearing of face coverings, has become an accepted part of their culture, in the west it is far less so.

Time was when, before leaving the house, the checklist would be wallet and keys, that became wallet, keys and phone and is now likely to be replaced by, phone, keys and face covering. And if that is true, along with social distancing measures, shopping will be changed forever.

Educating us to wear face coverings is being likened to the campaign in the seventies to get us all to wear seat belts, but this feels closer to home, somehow more personal. Shopping, or at least the physical act of shopping in a store is all about using all our senses, and wearing a face covering will, for many, intrude on the enjoyment of the experience.

And the coronavirus has accelerated the shift towards online shopping. According to Retail Week, multichannel retailers saw a record 71% boost in online sales compared with 2019 as physical stores opened up in June.

Trump Was Closer To The Truth

But there is hope.

Because a new study has shown that 99.9% of coronaviruses can be killed when exposed to far-UVC light, meaning that Trump’s comments at the press briefing in April were not as far fetched as we at first thought.

For years is has been known that UVC light can kill bacteria but at frequencies too damaging to humans. However, far-UVC light has a very limited range and cannot penetrate through the outer dead-cell layer of human skin or the tear layer in the eye, so it’s not a human health hazard.

The study, carried out by researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, has used far-ultraviolet C (UVC) light, at a wavelength which is safe for humans, to kill more than 99.9% of coronaviruses that are found present in airborne droplets. In other words, the form of droplets which is now believed to be suspended in the air in indoor, poorly ventilated areas.

Lead author, David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said: “Based on our results, continuous airborne disinfection with far-UVC light at the current regulatory limit could greatly reduce the level of airborne virus in indoor environments occupied by people.”

As we all seemingly become more, rather than less, fearful of the virus amid fears of entering a second wave, could the development of commercial applications of “air disinfection” in this way become the saviour that retail, hospitality and many other sectors need?

And with the prospect of finding a vaccine, likely to be years away, if ever, could this represent the pathway back to normality which we all now crave?

Originally published in Forbes.