Today China announced it was taking unusual new steps to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. It’s blocking the transfer of old bank notes between provinces and cities affected by the outbreak, according to the deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China — and that’s just the beginning.
The central bank also ramped up measures to sanitize old money to reduce contagion risks and added 600 billion yuan ($85.9 billion) of new cash for Hubei, the epicenter of the coronavirus, he said.
“Money from key virus-hit areas will be sanitized with ultraviolet rays or heated and locked up for at least 14 days, before it is distributed again,” Fan said at a press conference on Saturday. Money circulated in less riskier areas is subject to a week of quarantine and commercial lenders have been asked to separate cash from hospitals and food markets, he said.
The share of cash in broad money supply has dropped steadily in recent years in China, with the rise of mobile payments largely replacing bank notes in daily life.
“It’s an extreme move that makes sense,” argues Quartz:
Whether it’s dollars, pounds, euros, shekels, or in this case yuan, currency is notoriously dirty. A 2017 study [PDF] of $1 bills in New York found some 397 bacterial species living on the surface. And when someone with the flu handles it, that virus has been shown to survive for up to 12 days.
The World Health Organization has said that it is still not known how long the the coronavirus can survive on surfaces and objects, including money. Preliminary information has shown it can survive a few hours or more, but can be killed with basic disinfectants.