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The rapid spread of the coronavirus contagion has raised concerns over surface-to-humans transmissions, including through currency notes. Considering that cash is the most preferred mode of transaction among Indians, the fear of the virus spreading through currency notes is on the rise.

Recent studies indicated that the virus, transmitted through droplets, could be passed on even from dried surfaces to humans. However, there is not enough scientific evidence on how long it survives on currency notes.

According to US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Princeton University, and University of California, the SARS-CoV-2 (virus) can survive for up to four hours on copper and up to 24 hours on cardboard, while on plastic and stainless steel, it could last for at least six days. Therefore, plastic bags must be avoided.

The study said though the virus remains on surfaces for days, the load decreases within a few days, as viruses can only multiply inside a living cell. Elsewhere, if left untouched, they degrade on their own.

“When the virus load decreases, it means its capacity to cause infection also goes down. But, since it does stay on surfaces, we suggest, people must wash their hands frequently with soap and water, when they handle cash and not touch their faces at all or rub their eyes," said Dr. Abdul Gaffur, infectious diseases expert, Apollo Hospital, Chennai. “Washing your hands is the key to keeping yourself safe."

Experts suggest, more caution must be exercised while handling coins, as the virus could be resting on it for longer than on currency notes. The use of gloves and alcohol-based sanitizers (70% alcohol) is advisable for people who have to frequently handle cash, for instance, shopkeepers, but even in that case, it is advised, that they do not touch their face, and dispose of gloves safely after use.

Cash management companies, however, are sure that currency notes are safe and does not lead to the transmission of covid-19, considering that precautions are being taken against the spread of the contagion. Anush Raghavan, senior vice president, CMS Info Systems, said the company ensures that vehicles carrying cash are regularly sanitized, people handling cash wear masks and ATMs are sanitized before and after they are used.

CMS Info Systems is a cash management firm and represents the movement of 45-50% cash in India, which includes, loading of cash, replenishment of ATMs, sorting currency and helping banks to sort cash flows across branches.

“Every currency is processed and sorted through machine, with very little human touch," Raghavan said. “There is no scientific evidence to this (that using cash is unsafe as it carries the risk of transmission of covid-19," he said, adding that they have urged the Reserve Bank of India and the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) to issue statements that ‘cash is safe’.

Meanwhile, the government has asked citizens to switch to digital payments and avoid social contact. The RBI, too, has urged citizens to use electronic payments so that exposure to crowded places is reduced, as withdrawing cash from ATM machines or banks requires going to crowded places. Social distancing is the only issue, but it is safe to use cash, Raghavan insisted.

Biman Mukherji contributed to this story.

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