ECB: Risk of contracting coronavirus from cash is very low
In order to ensure that cash handling remains as safe as possible, the European Central Bank (ECB) is closely collaborating with top-tier European laboratories. The results indicate that euro banknotes do not represent a particularly significant risk of infection compared to other kinds of surfaces that people come into contact with every day.
“Coronaviruses can survive more easily on a stainless steel surface (e.g. door handles) than on our cotton banknotes, with survival rates approximately 10 to 100 times higher in the first few hours after contamination,” states Fabio Panetta, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, in his ECB blog post. Other analyses indicate that it is much more difficult for a virus to be transferred from porous surfaces such as cotton banknotes than from smooth surfaces like plastic.
“The conducted tests show a rapid decrease in the virus concentration during the first six hours after the virus application. Later, it can be detected on banknote/coin surfaces for several days only in a very low concentration,” said Ramunė Juzėnienė, Principal Specialist at the Cash Department of the Bank of Lithuania. According to virology experts, such concentration would be negligible to cause an infection, particularly when compared to the main transmission path (respiratory spread, airborne droplets). Moreover, in order to cause an infection, the virus would have to be transferred from a banknote to a person’s hands and, from there, to their mouth, eyes or nose, which would also lead to a further significant reduction in the virus concentration.
According to Ms Juzėnienė, recent studies show that cash should not be considered as representing a particularly significant risk of infection. The most important factor is hand hygiene, yet if it is not possible to wash or disinfect hands after each contact with cash (e.g. when working directly with banknotes), one should remain cautious and avoid face‑touching.
Being responsible for issuance of euro cash and its withdrawal from circulation in the country, the Bank of Lithuania has taken additional precautionary measures after the announcement of the pandemic: all cash returning from the circulation is held separately for about a week before starting handling it. Yet it should be noted that, based on the results of recent studies, the indicated period might soon be shortened.
The value of euro banknotes and coins issued into circulation by the Bank of Lithuania has been growing at a steady pace. Since 16 March 2020, when the quarantine was first announced in Lithuania, the value of cash in circulation has increased by 3% (€154 million) and reached €4,825 million on 28 April 2020.
According to the World Health Organization, there is currently no evidence to confirm or disprove that COVID-19 can be transmitted through cash.