File photo of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

While we agree with Banerjee that restricting movement does stop the spread of disease – it isn’t because tyres transmit them: People do.
Last Updated: October 8, 2020, 2:24 PM IST


Ten months into 2020 and the only thing everyone on this planet has definitely learnt to do is wash their hands for 20 seconds properly, as well as turn into a mild germaphobe cleaning every surface which could be contaminated. But what about vehicle tyres?

While most of us may have presumed that washing hands was enough, West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee felt that even car or truck tyres may be spreading coronavirus.

Covid-19 could be spreading via airborne transmission and coming to Bengal through trucks and lorries originating from other states, said Banerjee on Tuesday.

The chief minister’s apprehension comes a day after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Covid-19 can spread through airborne transmission.

“No matter what others say, Covid-19 is surely spreading through airborne transmission. We still don’t know till how far the virus is spreading through air. Everyone is giving a different opinion. All we can do is to take precaution till the time a vaccine is developed,” she said at an administrative meeting, reports Hindustan Times.

What Banerjee said here was scientifically accurate – cases of airborne transmission of Covid-19 have in fact been recorded

But the next claim was a little bizarre.

The chief minister advised officials of Jhargram district, where the administrative meeting was being held, to check the tyres of some trucks entering the state. Jhargram shares its borders with Jharkhand and Covid-19 numbers have been rising in the district over the past few weeks.

“We need to test the tyres of a few trucks which are entering the state through toll plazas. If the virus can be transmitted through clothes and shopping bags, then why not tyres,” Banerjee said.

“In my locality, six members of one family had tested positive. From them, the disease had spread to 36 others. I had stopped the movement of vehicles on the road where the house was located because as vehicles move from one place to another, they can spread diseases. The tyres of vehicles can carry organisms, which can trigger diseases. Soon after the locality was turned into a containment zone and the movement of vehicles was stopped, the disease stopped spreading. But as soon as the restrictions were withdrawn on September 8, it again started spreading. Two of my office-bearers have tested positive after the restrictions were lifted,” she added, reports HT.

While we agree with Banerjee that restricting movement does stop the spread of disease – it isn’t because tyres transmit them: People do.

Tyres, which are primarily made up of synthetic rubber, are hard surfaces, and not living organisms: two factors which studies have shown the Covid-19 virus cannot easily replicate in.

Research has found that while Covid-19 viruses can survive on hard surfaces, they cannot survive for a prolonged period of time. A study released by the WHO on the COVID-19 virus on different surfaces reported that the virus can remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to four hours on copper, and up to 24 hours on cardboard.

More recent studies, by two reputed medical journals, New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet, found they could last on plastic for 3-7 days, stainless steel for 3-7 days, and cardboard boxes for 24 hours. It is then, highly unlikely that a hard surface like rubber could sustain the virus for a long amount of time.

It is also rather unlikely that humans would touch the tyre of a vehicle, especially a truck, which is known for traversing through long distances, and then instantly touching their faces without washing their hands.

While Banerjee’s theory about Covid-19 being restricted by stopping vehicular transport does hold weight: it does so because human-to-human transmission, or people touching surfaces without sanitizing them or washing their hands occurs, and not because the virus can be effectively transmitted on the tyres of trucks.