Desperate measures: China disinfects, stores banknotes to stop coronavirus spread
China’s central bank said that banks use ultraviolet light or high temperatures to clean yuan bills, then seal and store the cash for seven to 14 days – depending on the severity of the epidemic in a particular region – before releasing the notes back into the market.
In a bid to stop the spread of deadly coronavirus (Covid-19) that has so far killed over 1,500 people, China has started disinfecting and isolating used banknotes. The move comes a day after people returning to the capital from holidays were ordered to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
The World Health Organization has said that Covid-19 can be spread through contaminated objects in addition to droplets and direct contact with infected patients.
More than 2,600 new cases were confirmed from a coronavirus outbreak in mainland China, health officials said on Saturday. The virus has infected 66,492 people in mainland China and spread to more than two dozen other countries.
At a press conference, China’s central bank said that banks use ultraviolet light or high temperatures to disinfect yuan 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 the notes.
The alarming situation in the country has triggered a rush to disinfect public places and minimise contact between people.
Pharmacies across the country sold out of disinfectants and surgical masks in days after a lockdown was announced in late January on Wuhan, where the Covid-19 illness 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.
Fan Yifei, the deputy governor of China’s central bank, said on Saturday that banks had been urged to provide new banknotes to customers whenever possible.
The central bank made an “emergency issuance” of 4 billion yuan in new notes to Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak, before the recent Lunar New Year holiday, Fan added.
The measures are intended to “secure the public’s safety and health when using cash”, Fan said.
But 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 they could survive a whole month without using more than 100 yuan in cash.
What is the situation in virus-hit zone?
The number of deaths in Hubei rose by 139 as of Friday, 107 of those in Wuhan. A total of 1,123 people in Wuhan have now died from the coronavirus.
National Health Commission official Liang Wannian told a news conference the government would maintain efforts to contain the spread of virus in Wuhan, which has been under virtual lockdown for three weeks.
China is struggling to get the world’s second-largest economy going after the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended by 10 days to help contain the virus.
Many travel restrictions are still in place.
According to the official Beijing Daily newspaper, people failing to obey government orders to quarantine themselves on return from the holidays would be punished. But it was not immediately clear how that would be enforced.
Case in Egypt
Outside mainland China, there have been about 500 cases in 24 countries and territories, and three deaths -- one each in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Africa recorded its first case, in Egypt, where the affected person, a foreigner, was been put into isolation in hospital.
The virus is killing about 2% of those infected and has spread faster than other respiratory viruses that emerged this century.
World Health Organisation’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that a WHO-led joint mission with China will start its outbreak investigation work this weekend, focusing on how the new coronavirus is spreading and its severity.