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Cash transactions across the country have declined. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Cash transactions across the country have declined. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

COVID-19: Digital payments see uptick in user base

  • Digital payments giant Paytm has witnessed a 20% jump in digital transactions since February
  • Experts said currency notes can be a hotbed for the deadly virus and have the potential to transfer infection

NEW DELHI: As several states take steps towards a lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, digital payment platforms have witnessed a sharp jump in the number of users as cash transactions across the country see a decline.

Digital payments giant Paytm said it has witnessed a 20% jump in the number of digital transactions since February, with more merchants willing to partner the company. “There is a 15% increase in incoming requests from offline merchants to partner with Paytm. We are seeing a trend that merchants are offering home deliveries in their neighborhood and suggesting their customers to Paytm as they fear the transfer of the virus from hands and cash," a Paytm spokesperson told Mint.

Similarly, Walmart-backed PhonePe said it has witnessed higher transactions on their platform. “We are seeing an uptick in our switch partners from whom our users can buy essentials/staples such as groceries, medicine and food. This is happening across all locations (tier-1/2/3 and beyond)," a PhonePe spokesperson told Mint.

On Monday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) urged citizens to use more electronic payments so that exposure to crowded places like ATMs or banks is reduced.

“In the context of the efforts to limit the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic by avoiding social contact and visit to public places, public can use these modes of digital payment from the convenience of their homes through online channels like mobile banking, internet banking, cards, etc. and avoid using cash which may require going to crowded places for sending money or paying bills," the RBI said.

According to founder and managing director of Sarvatra Technologies Mandar Agashe, this could be yet another turning point for the digital payments industry as restrictions on movement can cause people to use electronic payment modes.

“This can cause a drastic change in payment habits, as consumers shift to digital channels to reduce their risk of infection from handling cash. It’s the same way how demonetisation paved the way for digital payments in India overnight and the adoption has been increasing ever since," he said.

India's count of positive cases has touched 169, with three deaths and 14 recoveries. World over, the number of infected cases has surged to over 219,000, with death toll over 8,900.

Experts said currency notes can be a hotbed for the deadly virus and have the potential to transfer infection.

“People may use their saliva while counting the currency notes. Therefore, there may be a possibility of infection transfer. The virus can survive on porous surfaces like paper and carboard for a few hours. Washing hands is recommended after counting the currency," Manoj Goel, director, pulmonology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute said, adding that it is better to adopt digital mode of payments and e-banking to avoid risks.

Medanta Hospital’s public health expert Shubhank Singh also said avoiding cash transaction during these could be a good step towards protection from this virus.

(Neetu Chandra Sharma contributed to the story)

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