Cash is safe to use during a coronavirus pandemic, this is why.
The choice to pay by cash has received its fair share of media commentary during this coronavirus pandemic. Way back in the early days of March 2020 a news article penned by UK paper The Telegraph laid claim that the World Health Organization (WHO) had suggested we avoid cash and use contactless payments instead. A suggestion that the WHO have since enthusiastically stated was misinterpreted, but not before the original ‘Dirty banknotes may be spreading the coronavirus’ headline spread around the world, leading to a fear-driven societal shift towards the shunning of cash.
To help you cut through all of the noise, misquotes and fake news, here is a fact-based insight into the safety of cash usage in a pandemic.
Cash is as safe as all other physical payment methods
Speaking to Full Fact, an independent fact checking charity, the WHO clarified that they are not warning people against using paper money due to coronavirus. The WHO has issued advice to the public to wash their hands after handling money, especially if handling or eating food, as per usual good hygiene practices. But they have not issued any warnings about the using of banknotes (full article here).
When using chip and pin, and even contactless payments, if you don’t wash your hands after touching the phone, credit card or a payment terminal then “you are still susceptible to potential infection,” as explained by Michael Knight, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, when speaking with American news channel CNBC, Knight went on to say, “for starters, COVID-19 doesn’t spread by penetrating the skin on your hands”, “getting coronavirus, or other respiratory viruses like influenza, on your hands only leads to infection when it is transferred from your hand to places like your mouth, nose or eyes”. (full article here)
How clean is cash?
A Germ Count Comparison
Comparison of the Germ Scores of common surfaces. Source: LendEDU
The Bank of England via a statement on their website have said: "Like any other surface that large numbers of people come into contact with, notes can carry bacteria or viruses. However, the risk posed by handling a polymer note is no greater than touching any other common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards."
Marilyn Roberts, a microbiologist at the University of Washington School of Public Health told MIT’s Technology Review, “I think focusing on money or how we pay for things is the wrong message, frankly.” The debate over which physical payment method is safest is detracting from a much more important point, “Are you in a crowded theater? Are you in a restaurant? Are you in a Costco? You’re more likely to pick up Covid-19 from people exposure than from the type of payment.” (full article here)
An ill-informed anti-cash movement has damaging effects
Cash is essential to the 1.6 billion people across the world who have no bank accounts, including the 8 million Brits that rely on cash, as highlighted in former Financial Ombudsmen Natalie Ceeney's Access to Cash report. The sudden removal of cash as a payment option has left many vulnerable and with no way to pay.
Martin Kearsley, Director of Banking at the Post Office recently said, “With over 2 million working age adults in the country without bank accounts, and something like 8 million who still need cash – either to budget their full weekly spend, or as an essential part of mixed weekly spend – easy access to cash, acceptance of it in shops and business and an easy place to deposit it back in are vital”.
The inclusion that cash affords is being eroded. Mobile payment, contactless and card payments all come with entry barrier, whether that is due to technological restraints, network limitations or financial hurdles, they are not available to everyone all of the time in the way cash is. There are no registration or other access requirements in order to obtain, spend or accept cash.
Pro-Cash is not anti-technology
There are many benefits to the use of cash, which is why so many people choose to use it. It’s the choice that really matters. Freedom of choice is only guaranteed when there are choices available. Cashless payment technology has introduced a number of opportunities and commercial advantages, but a purely cashless society would also introduce a number of restrictions, just as a purely cash driven society would.
Variety is the spice of life as they say, and it is key to ensuring competitiveness, and avoiding cashless payment processing being in the hands of a few commercial players, which would inevitably drive the cost of usage up.