Banknotes and coins may be spreading the COVID-19: Can FinTech Services help?

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a novel virus similar but different from SARS and MERS. The declaration of the COVID-19 as both an epidemic and a pandemic on January 30, 2020, by the World Health Organisation, is because of the pace at which the virus spreads from person to person globally.

Unlike outbreaks like the SARS, MERS, influenza, Ebola, H1N1, and other infectious diseases, the COVID-19 has sent the entire world into lockdown. It spreads mainly through contact with droplets from the sneeze and cough of infected persons via aerosols.

According to Neeltje et al, (2020) the COVID-19 virus survives on inanimates like copper, cardboard, plastic, stainless steel, fabric and other materials. This presumes that banknotes and coins made from some of these materials could get contaminated and spread the COVID-19 virus through the exchange from person to person.

Scientifically, it has been proven that bacteria and viruses can survive on banknotes and coins because of the different environmental conditions under which they are exchanged (Adinortey et al, 2011. Maritz et al, 2017).

A simple trail of a banknote and or a coin from a public toilet facility through a food market to a restaurant reveals the dangers of using banknotes and coins at this point in the COVID-19 development. Although the COVID-19 virus has not been empirically proven to spread through banknotes and coins, countries leading in the diffusion of financial technology (FinTech) services like China, South Korea, India, and France have instituted strict measures to ensure the safe handling of money and promote the use of FinTech services to curb the spread of the COVID-19. FinTech is the delivery of boundless financial products and services through social media platforms, mobile money technologies, blockchain, and other internet-mediated registries.

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The central bank of China where the COVID-19 originated sterilised and cleaned banknotes with ultraviolet light under high temperatures, South Korea with the second-largest recorded cases in Asia recalled currencies in circulation, sterilized and burned perceived infected banknotes, Indian Government has recommended the use of the contactless payment, and the Louvre museum in Paris has banned the use of cash. Statistically, the number of cases in China has plummeted to a near-zero in the past week and South Korea continues to witness a drastic decline in the spread of the virus.

African countries must learn from this and curb the spread of the virus through the handling of banknotes and coins. Debatably, most African countries cannot institute complete lockdown because of the underdeveloped e-commerce and supply systems making it difficult to acquire necessities online. Consequently, handling banknotes and coins in offline transactions become inevitable unless strict measures are instituted by the government of African countries to ensure the safe handling of banknotes and promote the use of contactless payments. The diffusion of financial technology in the form of mobile money is relatively high in Africa; therefore, this is the right time to use the power of technology as a non-pharmaceutical intervention to slow the spread of the COVID-19. Temporarily stimulus packages to abolish and or to reduce transaction charges effected by MTN-Ghana, Uganda, Vodafone-Mpesa in Kenya, and other financial technology service providers in African are beneficial in reducing the use of banknotes and coins.

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However, there should be urgent collaborations between financial technology service providers, Banks, Insurance companies, and other financial institutions to improve overall financial accessibility in Africa to reduce the movement of people and the handling of banknotes and coins. Finally, while the world awaits the arrival of a vaccine in about a minimum of 12-18 months, governments across the continent must sterilize currencies and prioritize and promote the use of FinTech services as a non-pharmaceutical measure to curb the spread of the COVID-19. Knowledge saves lives.

The writer is a Lecturer at the All Nations University College Business School, All Nations University College Koforidua, Ghana and currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Financial Technology at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China.

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