Banknotes and Coronavirus

  Banknotes and CoronavirusWith the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, many people are worried about infected banknotes. Over the last few weeks, central bankers have themselves taken a number of measures to mitigate virus transmission risks on banknotes.

But what does science have to say about the presence of pathogens, such as viruses, on banknotes?

A few days ago I was walking in the park near our house with my wife and kids. Their schools were already cancelled and we wanted them to stretch their legs. On the path in front of me I saw a fresh $20 bill.

My first thought was that this was some sort of social experiment. Someone was secretly monitoring me to test if I would take it for myself or would try and find its owner. I’ve found $5 and $20 bills before, and this is always my first reaction.

My second reaction caught me by surprise. Is that bill loaded with coronavirus? Should I just leave it on the ground? Luckily, I never had to make a decision. The person who had lost it was backtracking, and I pointed it out to them.

But how justified was my worry?

There are few objects in the world that are more widely touched and manipulated than cash. It’s no wonder that as the coronavirus travels around the globe, potential transmission by banknotes has become an issue.

In this post I’m going to review what the authorities like central banks have done up till now with the banknotes they issue. And then I’ll discuss what science has to tell us about banknotes and pathogens.

The response from central bankers

The current pandemic is being caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. It first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

Beginning in mid-February, banks in virus-hit parts of China

by the People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank, to withdraw potentially-infected cash from circulation. All notes received from hospitals, markets, and buses were to be sent to the central bank for destruction. Remaining banknotes were to be disinfected using ultraviolet or heat treatments and stored for seven to 14 days before recirculation. Continue reading…

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