Coronavirus: China starts 'laundering its money', releases $86 billion in new banknotes to replace infected cash

Before January 17 this year, the People’s Bank of China arranged to allocate nearly 600 billion yuan ($86 billion) of new banknotes to the country, said officials during a press conference


                            Coronavirus: China starts 'laundering its money', releases $86 billion in new banknotes to replace infected cash
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The new coronavirus might survive on contaminated objects and infect people exposed to them, according to experts. To combat this, Chinese banks have come up with a solution for the same:  disinfecting potentially infected cash before recirculating them.

The reason being money is constantly on the move, being exchanged through numerous hands throughout the day.

This step by the Chinese government is aimed at stalling the outbreak that has killed 1,868 people and infected over 72,436 people in the country.

According to the State Council, banks will sterilize cash -- money transacted at high-risk sites such as hospitals and markets -- by exposing them to either ultraviolet or high temperatures.  The disinfected cash will then be released into the market after sealing them for seven to 14 days, officials said during a press conference Saturday.

Additionally, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) is working on distributing fresh notes, Fan Yifei, deputy governor of the PBOC, told reporters during a press briefing.

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“After the outbreak, we paid great attention to the safety and health of the public’s use of cash. Before January 17 this year, the People’s Bank of China arranged to allocate nearly 600 billion yuan ($86 billion) of new banknotes to the country,”  Yifei said.

Why disinfect cash?

Earlier studies have suggested that cash is filthy: bacteria can hitch a ride from one person to another.  Scientists suspect that viruses such as influenza, norovirus, rhinovirus, and others also follow suit. For instance, when 10 participants in a study used a coffee cup contaminated with rhinovirus, over half of them ended up getting infected.

What is more, a study found 397 bacterial species living on the surface of $1 bills in New York.  The flu virus could live on them for up to twelve days. 

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More specifically, a recent review looked at how coronavirus -- a group that includes viruses that cause anything from the common cold to the more serious diseases like SARS and MERS virus spreads. The scientists found a pattern among this group: they can survive on inanimate objects for up to nine days.

(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

This led the team to suspect that the new coronavirus -- closely related to the SARS virus -- could also survive on surfaces and objects.  Even the World Health Organization (WHO) is unsure of how long the virus can linger on objects or surfaces. Touching contaminated surfaces could put people at risk, fear experts.

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The review also said that disinfectants could be used as an effective tool against coronaviruses. Experts hope further studies will shed light on the virus's behavior.

“The exchange of money among hands is one of several ways of person-to-person contact. Viruses can spread through touching contaminated surfaces, door handles, chair armrests and the sharing of electronics," Muhammad Munir, a virologist at Lancaster University in England, told CNBC.

“While COVID-19 can spread through contaminated objects, the duration of virus survival on currency notes is not determined,” he said, as he expressed doubts over China's measures to disinfect money.

Besides, urban China relies on digital transactions to meet their needs. “The majority of daily purchases are already made through online shopping — the actual impact of restricting currency notes usage or disinfection will be slight,” Munir added.

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To keep out of harm's way,  experts like Munir think maintaining good hygiene is key. “The logical approach to intervening in virus transmission is hand-washing using alcohol-based hand sanitizers," he said.

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.