Fact Check: No, you cannot get coronavirus from ‘mitumba’

The highly-infectious coronavirus is crippling the world’s daily activities to a halt with countries in a frantic dash to prevent its spread.

From near-empty flights to deserted streets to silent sports’ stadia to repeated calls for proper hygiene practices, the unisonous message is: STOP the virus.

Also in the measures to combat the virus is a deluge of misinformation fighting for attention.

A claim doing rounds on messaging platform WhatsApp urged people to avoid buying imported second-hand clothes (mitumba) from virus-hit countries lest you get infected.

“Most European cities which are currently experiencing the spread of coronavirus are getting rid of clothes of infected patients both dead and alive,” it read in part.

The FALSE claim, with rallying calls to its audience to share it widely, insinuated that there is a plan to sell the clothes in Africa.

Verifying the claim

The Standard Fact Check desk sought to verify the claim by answering two questions.

How long dies the virus survive outside a human body?

Sufficient studies are yet to be published on SARS-CoV2 (the medical term of the virus) that causes covid-19.

But health agencies are using health findings of MERS and SARS, whose causative agents are from the same family of coronaviridae, to predict how long the virus survives outside the body.

United Nation’s World Health Organization says, “Coronaviruses including that of covid-19 may persist on the surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.”

The duration, according to WHO, varies under different conditions like type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment.

Dr Stela Mutali, who tells us she is keen on geriatrics (branch of medicine dealing with health of old people) explains that “coronaviruses tend to survive longer in colder temperatures and higher humidity.”

Dr Mutali has been at the fore of raising awareness on the virus.

A report released last week titled “Aerosol and surface stability of HCov-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1” suggests that virus could be “detected in aerosols up to three hour after aerosolisation, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic or stainless steel.”

Infectious disease expert Daniel Kuritzkes also opines that flat and hard surfaces are friendlier to viruses than clothes or rough surfaces.”

Second hand-clothes take weeks, sometimes months, from European countries where they are imported from to Kenya where they often stored for more days before sale.

How are the clothes handled before shipment?

Second hand clothes undergo rigorous processing of sorting and packing and in most cases cleaning. The clothes are usually sprayed before they are shipped.

You are, however, always encouraged to wash the clothes before you wear them.

Their shipment travel through various climatic zones where time, temperatures and humidity are not constant.

As most countries are on lockdowns, it is business unusual, meaning shipments, if any, are taking longer they normally did.

After shipment and clearance into the country, most of the second hand clothes are sold in open air flea markets with low humidity. It is highly unlikely an active virus will still be on the clothes after such a process.

WHO says: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is low.”

Dr Mutali adds that no instance of an infection from mitumba has been reported since the outbreak started late last year in Wuhan, China.

“Whereas many of the coronavirus cases reported in Africa are linked to people with a recent history of travel to Europe, no cases have been reported yet of contact with contaminated shipment of any kind, clothes included,” she said.


It is FALSE to caution people against buying second-hand clothes because of the coronavirus outbreak as there are no virus risk associated with the clothes.

You can read more fact checked claims related to the pandemic HERE .

This is an initiative of the Standard Group to combat fake news, misinformation and disinformation. If there’s something you want us to look into, email [email protected]