COVID in Wales: How UV-C can disinfect the air we breathe


    January 10th, 2022


    The risk of infection from the virus causing COVID-19 remains at an all-time high. In Wales, at the time of writing this, the number of cases from the Omicron variant are on a sharp rise. 


    This rise in cases and fear of increasing infections are pushing schools to move to online blended or remote learning. The National Director for Health Protection and Screening Services for Public Health Wales said these cases are expected to rise.  The ongoing fear of infection from COVID-19 has changed life as we knew it back in 2019. In fact, the Department for Education (DfE) estimates that 2.6% of all pupils – more than 208,000 children – were not in class for reasons connected to coronavirus on November 25th. This was up from more than 130,000 children, or 1.6% of all pupils, on November 11, 2021. So, there is no doubt the spectre of COVID-19 and its variants is not going away anytime soon.


    Given the ongoing fear of infection, there is a renewed focus on ensuring that workplaces, facilities, and all manner of public spaces are safe to use. Highly frequented places like supermarkets, schools, and offices, can become an incubator as some cold and flu viruses can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. As we adjust to this new reality, good hygiene practices and proper ventilation have become a prerequisite in our everyday routines - there is now an increasing demand for effective disinfection solutions to avoid unnecessary restrictions on any environment. So, the government has been trialling several measures to combat the spread of COVID 19.


    Recently the Welsh government announced plans for a £6m investment in anti-COVID technology for schools and classrooms. This included 30,000 CO2 sensors and 1,800 ozone disinfecting machines. While a step in the right direction, the plan to install ozone machines was scrapped soon after being announced over concerns about being "highly harmful" to children. The Welsh government now plans to invest the funds to improve ventilation in schools and colleges instead. As reported on the BBC, David Evans, the National Education Union Cymru's secretary, welcomed the ventilation investment for schools, saying it was "critical to ensuring that education can remain open over the winter for as much of the time as possible". Business Wales, too, recognises that good ventilation can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workspace. This helps reduce the risk from aerosol transmission and the spread of COVID-19 in an enclosed space and supports a safer return to the workspace, schools and other locations.

    The power of UV-C light to disinfect


    Viruses spread primarily through three vectors:


    1. Direct airborne transmission between people – such as a cough or sneeze
    2. Indirect airborne transmission through air flows – such as circulated air in a building
    3. Indirect surface-borne transmission via contaminated surfaces – picking up an infected phone or piece of cutlery, for example:


    One technology attracting interest is ultraviolet C (UV-C) lamps and luminaires.  UV-C as a technology isn't new – it's been used in hospitals and agriculture for decades to disinfect equipment, food and produce. The power of UV-C lighting for disinfection is well known with applications widely tested since the 1930s and 1940s. UV-C has been used for disinfection purposes across air, surfaces, objects, and water.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an acceleration of interest in this relatively under-sung technology. The technology has proven highly effective against all pathogens tested to date, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19.


    At a wavelength of 254 nanometres, the UV-C light inactivates viruses and bacteria by breaking down their DNA and RNA, rendering them harmless. For example, recent research conducted by Boston University shows that more than 99% of the virus that causes Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) was inactivated after just six seconds of exposure to UV-C light sources.


    For more than 35 years, Signify (the former Philips Lighting) has been at the forefront of UV technology and has a proven track record of innovation and strong application expertise in UV-C lighting. Recently, new families of UV-C products have been launched – from fixed and mobile units that disinfect the air in a room, to chambers that disinfect objects, to ceiling and wall mounted luminaires that disinfect when no one is present.

    Examples of UV-C at work


    Very recently, the University of Leeds announced that a study has been launched into the feasibility of using air cleaners to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in 30 primary schools in Bradford. As part of the pilot, ten out of the 30 schools are trialling Ultraviolet (UV-C) technology. This is an air disinfection approach that focuses on ventilation and involves cycling the air through an enclosed unit where it is exposed to an ultraviolet germicidal light, which inactivates microorganisms. Poor air quality is a major cause of illness, and children are particularly vulnerable to its effects. Many students fell ill due to the virus throughout the pandemic, posing a severe risk to their family's health. The UV-C devices installed are intended to provide an extra layer of protection for the students, staff, and visitors in the schools, providing the highest quality air, helping to reduce sickness and absenteeism. This pilot makes UV-C technology a perfect solution for trialling in Welsh schools.

    UV-C desk lamp in bedroom
    Philips UV-C Disinfection Active Air Unit


    In sports, PSV Eindhoven, RB Leipzig as well as Harlequins Rugby Club here in the UK are some recent examples of sports stadiums that have installed UV-C technology for the safety of their players. Every year we hear about teams affected by flu, resulting in them fielding weaker teams or playing havoc with fixtures. While COVID-19 was the primary driver for these clubs to install UV-C systems in their dressing rooms, it can help protect players all year round from airborne diseases such as seasonal flu creating a safer working environment for players and coaching staff.

    UV-C lighting is being used a wide variety of areas, including schools, gyms, supermarkets, public restrooms, indeed any contained space where people gather. The possibilities are endless!
    UV-C desk lamp in bedroom
    Philips UV-C Disinfection Wall Mounted Upper Air Unit
    Minimising the risks pathogens pose is essential everywhere, but it is crucial to aim for the safest possible environment in the waiting rooms of hospitals and medical centres. Forester University Hospital in Beijing equipped its public access areas with Philips UV-C disinfection upper air luminaires to help provide an extra layer of protection for visitors. These luminaires, installed in the hospital's lobbies, waiting rooms and reception areas, provide continuous air disinfection that helps to keep employees, patients and visitors better protected. Such luminaries are ideal for indoor areas with high-density footfall. The hospital also uses surface disinfection lighting in other public areas when people are absent.
    UV-C desk lamp in bedroom
    Philips UV-C Disinfection Ceiling Mounted Upper Air Unit

    The Future

    As countries put forward economic stimulus packages and embark on infrastructure projects, attention should be given to making workplaces, schools, and public buildings safer. In Wales, schools have been a prime focus for the government. There is a rollout of CO2 monitors planned for schools to keep children safe. Once installed, the staff can identify where ventilation needs to be improved. However, it is still crucial to ensure the air is regularly ventilated, to reduce the risk from aerosol transmission. There is no better time than now to invest in technologies like UV-C that can help.
    Sadly, the spectre of COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. Today, Omicron is the dominant strain in COVID-19 infections in the United Kingdom – a country with an advanced vaccination programme. Of these, more than 11,000 cases have been reported in Wales alone (as of January 10th). We see more and more health professionals forecasting that we will need to live with COVID-19 variants for years, and vaccines will have to be regularly tweaked, like today's influenza vaccines.
    UV-C disinfection technology offers us solid promise as it has an enviable track record against all pathogens tested in laboratories to date. Leading bodies including SAGE and the World Health Organisation (WHO), confirm that the pandemic has highlighted the potential for UV lighting to deactivate the virus, providing an added layer of protection. Different environmental based models confirms that there is good evidence that UV-C light is a viable decontamination system and can also be beneficial where existing ventilation rates cannot be improved.
    There is no single silver bullet to irradicate COVID-19. Vaccinations, handwashing, masks, and chemical disinfectants all continue to play their part. However, we should look to leverage the capabilities of other solutions, like air disinfection via UV-C lighting to help support a safer return to work, and play.

    Signify's UV-C lighting is designed, installed, and used according to the product-specific safety instructions and manufactured using well-controlled industrial processes. As a result, UV-C light should always be used by professionals in accordance with the safety requirements and instructions.


    Signify offers the UV-C luminaires under the Philips brand.

    About the author:

    Kira Guehring

    Stephen Rouatt


    CEO, Signify UK&I

    For further information, please contact:

    Signify UK&I PR Manager

    Nikita Mahajan
    Tel: + 44 (0)7459751618

    About Signify


    Signify (Euronext: LIGHT) is the world leader in lighting for professionals and consumers and lighting for the Internet of Things. Our Philips products, Interact connected lighting systems and data-enabled services, deliver business value and transform life in homes, buildings and public spaces. In 2022, we had sales of EUR 7.5 billion, approximately 35,000 employees and a presence in over 70 countries. We unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world. We achieved carbon neutrality in our operations in 2020, have been in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index since our IPO for six consecutive years and were named Industry Leader in 2017, 2018 and 2019. News from Signify is located at the Newsroom, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Information for investors can be found on the Investor Relations page.

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