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Safe Payment Methods During the #Coronavirus Crisis: Cash vs Payment Cards

JP Buntinx
March 4, 2020
During these uncertain times due to the coronavirus, payment methods are getting a lot of attention. It seems both cash and payment cards are under scrutiny, as they may help in spreading this outbreak.

China Worries About Cash

In China, the coronavirus outbreak has claimed a lot of lives. With tens of thousands still infected and in quarantine, halting the outbreak is a top priority. Doing so is not straightforward, as a lot of uncertainties regarding the spreading of the coronavirus remain in place today. 

A very interesting countermeasure has been taken by the government. Sanitizing paper money and taking some of it out of circulation is one of the precautionary measures. Local banks are forced to disinfect cash bills before issuing them to the public.

Furthermore, local banks can only issue new bills which are sterilized already. Halting the virus in its tracks needs to occur sooner rather than later. Scientists remain uncertain as to whether paper money contributes to the spreading, but it may not be an unnecessary precaution either. 

A side effect of this move is how inter-province cash transfers are no longer available. Minimizing the movement of personnel and cash flow seems to be the main point of focus in this regard. Reinstating this option will not occur in the near future.

Not everyone is convinced that these measures will make any impact. Lancaster University virologist Muhammad Munir deems the impact to be “minimal”. Containing the coronavirus will hinge on various other countermeasures. Although COVID-19 spreads through contaminated objects, the time during which the virus survives is minor. 

What About Payment Cards?

In this modern day and age, payment cards are very popular. In a lot of countries, cards still have to be handed from customer to cashier and back again. Handling payments in this way can in theory, result in a further spreading of COVID-19.  Utilizing this payment method is prone to the same “risks” as paying in cash.

Clinical microbiologist Dr. Susan Whittler seems to think along the same lines. In her opinion, payment cards have more potential to transport respiratory viruses. Transmitting the virus will not happen every time, but the risk still persists. 

The working theory is how viruses survive longer on hard surfaces. Plastic payment cards provide a promising “habitat” for survival. Proving the transmission of COVID-19 through payment cards has not been confirmed at this time.  Making digital payments and transfers are still advisable until more information becomes available. 

The Hong Kong Cash Handout

Keeping all of the above in mind, one has to question the recent decision by Hong Kong’s government. Earlier this week, the government confirmed every permanently residing adult in the country  Most residents will be very pleased with the news, as it helps boost the local economy.

Given the coronavirus threat, however, one has to wonder how smart this decision is. Considering how cash could be a catalyst for spreading COVID-19, bringing more bills in circulation may not necessarily be the smartest plan. To date, over 100 infections have been recorded and confirmed in Hong Kong. 

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