China’s central bank has implemented a new strategy to reduce further spread of the novel coronavirus: deep cleaning and destroying potentially infected cash. According to an announcement from the People’s Bank of China, all Chinese banks must now disinfect their cash with ultraviolet light and high temperatures. After that, the bank must store the cash for seven to 14 days before releasing it to customers.
The new measures aim to contain the spread of the virus, officially known as Covid-19. Of the 71,319 cases worldwide, 70,548 are in mainland China. Of the 1,775 deaths attributed to the virus worldwide, only five have occurred outside of mainland China. New cases are being reported every day in China and the country’s officials are scrambling to try and stem the tide.
According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus appears to survive for at least several hours on surfaces. People are worried about cash, which changes hands multiple times a day. Previous studies have found that paper currency tends to pick up contaminants from the environments it has been in and can transfer those contaminants from person to person. While disease transmission linked to money is rare, the Chinese authorities are taking no chances.
There is a different procedure in place for cash that comes from sources that are considered high risk. According to the announcement, cash that comes from hospitals, farmers markets, and buses will be destroyed instead of disinfected and recirculated. The banks are also suspending physical cash transfers between hard-hit provinces to limit the possibility of virus transmission during the cash’s transit.
The Chinese authorities realize that these efforts will remove a significant amount of cash from circulation for the time being. To make up for the reduction, the central bank will issue large amounts of new, uninfected cash. Fan Yifei, deputy governor of the central bank, disclosed that 600 billion yuan ($85.6 billion) in new banknotes has been distributed in China since Jan. 17.