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Your questions: Should we be cleaning returned items?

Questions have been raised as to what retailers should do with items returned from sales online, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Find out the answer here. 

“Are there any guidelines to what you should do if you get items returned from sales online?” one reader has asked Drapers. 

“Obviously you can’t be sure that the person trying them isn’t carrying the virus, so it’s a risk to staff and then someone buying that garment. Guidelines all talk about washing clothes, which is something you can’t do with new clothes. This will also be an issue when shops reopen.”  

A Public Health England (PHE) spokeswoman told Drapers that remnants of coronavirus are likely to have “decreased significantly” on contaminated surfaces within 24 hours. 

However, PHE said it does not have “specific guidance on clothing” and whether it needs to be cleaned, or how to clean it. 

“While not a lot is known about the novel coronavirus, it is likely to behave in a similar way to other coronaviruses,” she told Drapers. “How long any respiratory virus survives will depend on a number of factors – for example, what the virus is on, whether it is exposed to sunlight, differences in temperature and humidity, and exposure to cleaning products (even simple ones like soapy water and household cleaning sprays).

“Under most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 24 hours, and even more so by 48 hours. Appropriate infection and prevention control measures are being implemented to reduce the risk to the public.”

The government website states, “Staff should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working. There are no additional precautions needed for handling post or packages.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is “low”: “The risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a physical package is also very low.”

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and government agency Health and Safety Executive (HSE) declined to comment. Health and safety expert THSP Risk Management has been contacted for further advice.

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