Post Mortem

Covid and Currency

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 8/5/2020 12:52:19 PM IST

 “Banknotes may be spreading the new coronavirus so people should try to use contactless payments instead, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said” The Telegraph (UK), March 2, 2020.

Following this report, the WHO, in an e-mail to, clarified that this was not a warning against using currency and went on to list the usual ‘Wash hands regularly, avoid touching face, disinfect surfaces…” etc. Readers may note that this is not a denial of the virus’ ability to travel on banknotes and coins.

When the COVID-19 virus emerged, South Korea was once the second country within which the virus was spreading fastest. China was the first. South Korea quickly brought it under control with sweeping lockdown measures and a generally co-operative public.

One interesting process South Korean banks adopted was burning and quarantining cash as a precaution against the coronavirus (Reuters, March 6, 2020). In the report, a Bank of Korea official is quoted as saying “For all cash coming to the central bank from local banks, the Bank of Korea will keep it in a safe for two weeks, given that the virus usually dies out after nine days”. China also told lenders to disinfect and store banknotes in a dry place for seven days as part of the battle against the virus.

Any official (Peer reviewed and issued by the WHO or the CDC) report on how long the virus can last on surfaces tends to be vague. This is understandable. The virus is fairly new and its survival on surfaces depends on many factors like temperature, humidity, dampness, the actual surface, the material etc.

Given this, locally, there seems to be not much concern about handling cash. This puts at risk business people who handle the most number of banknotes and coins. Banknotes and coins exchange hands the most among all the physical things we handle. Maybe we have to be a little bit more careful about this.

Maybe it will be ideal to make sure we have exact change when we purchase things so that no new currency comes into our hands. Of course this is not possible indefinitely so we may sanitize our money and also wash our hands thoroughly after handling them. The internet has some good ideas on disinfecting banknotes which may be worth looking up. One is to iron them.

Besides these, for larger transactions, some may want to go cashless. For example to pay the person who fixed your refrigerator, ask for their account number and transfer the cash online.

While I am extremely wary of discussing the current pandemic in fears of wrong information disseminating, this was one subject that needed discussing. During this time, while we have to be careful, we should also be careful not to become paranoid because fear causes people to do stupid things.

Phyobemo Odyuo, Duncan Basti, Dimapur

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