The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Mar. 2, 2020 that dirty banknotes may be spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus because the virus can survive on surfaces for several days, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph.1
“Yes, it’s possible,” said a WHO spokesperson. “We know that money changes hands frequently and can pick up all sorts of bacteria and viruses and things like that. We would advise people to wash their hands after handling banknotes, and avoid touching their face. When possible it’s a good idea to use contactless payments.”1
Paper Currency in China Being Disinfected or Destroyed
The comments coincide with actions being taken by authorities in China to contain the spread of the coronavirus by cleaning or destroying paper currency in certain regions of the country. On Feb. 26, 2020, the People’s Bank of China’s (PBOC) branch in Guangzhou, China ordered commercial banks in the southern province of Guangdong to disinfect and store banknotes in dry areas for a period of at least two weeks before returning them to circulation.2
PBOC Guangzhou also said it would destroy all paper currency collected by hospitals, buses and wet markets where dead and live seafood and animals, including wildlife, are sold in the open.2
The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) in February also advised Chinese banks to increase the number of times they disinfect areas frequently used by customers, including counters, appliances and password entry devices.3
Coronaviruses Can Remain Infectious on Surfaces for Days
An analysis of 22 studies published in The Journal of Hospital Infection involving human coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus or endemic human coronaviruses (HCoV) can remain infectious on inanimate surface for up to nine days at room temperature.1 4
“Like any other surface that large numbers of people come into contact with, notes can carry bacteria or viruses, said a spokesperson for the Bank of England. “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.”1
The review of the literature in The Journal of Hospital Infection noted that surfaces infected with coronaviruses can be disinfected within one minute using a solution consisting of 62–71 percent ethanol and 0.5 percent hydrogen peroxide or 0.1 percent sodium hypochlorite.4
2 Yeung K. China central bank branch to destroy banknotes from coronavirus-hit sectors. South China Morning Post Feb. 16, 2020.
3 Tham E, Horwitz J. China orders disinfection of banknotes in coronavirus fight: report. Reuters Feb. 26, 2020.
4 Kampf G, Todtb D, Pfaenderb S, Steinmann E. Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents. The Journal of Hospital Infection March 2020; 104(3): 246–251.