rk banknotes 160220 - China disinfects banknotes to stop virus spread

BEIJING • China is disinfecting and isolating used banknotes as part of efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 1,500 people, officials said.

Banks will use ultraviolet light or high temperatures to disinfect bills, then seal and store the cash for seven to 14 days – depending on the severity of the outbreak in a particular region – before recirculating them, the central bank said at a press conference yesterday.

The virus, which has infected more than 66,000 people in China and spread to more than two dozen other countries, has sparked a rush to disinfect public places and minimise contact between people.

Surgical masks and disinfectants were sold out across the country just days after a lockdown was announced last month on Wuhan city, where the coronavirus is believed to have emerged.

Office buildings have installed packets of tissue in elevators that tenants are encouraged to use when pressing buttons, while ride-hailing company Didi exhorts drivers to disinfect their cars daily.

The central bank’s deputy governor Fan Yifei said yesterday that banks have been urged to provide new banknotes to customers whenever possible.

The central bank made an “emergency issuance” of four billion yuan (S$796 million) in new notes to Hubei province, epicentre of the outbreak, prior to the recent Chinese New Year holiday, he said.

The measures, he said, are intended to “secure the public’s safety and health when using cash”.

It is unclear how wide an impact the central bank’s disinfection work will have, with increasing numbers of Chinese people preferring mobile payments over cash in recent years.

In 2017, nearly three-quarters of Chinese respondents told an Ipsos survey that they could survive a whole month without using more than 100 yuan in cash.

According to the World Health Organisation, the coronavirus can be spread through contaminated objects, in addition to droplets and direct contact with people who are infected.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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