Some newspapers reported last week that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Bank of England (BoE) advice on using banknotes – or rather, the press steer appears to be to stop using them. I have every respect for both organisations’ knowledge and advice, but in fact, the WHO’s spokesperson told the Telegraph newspaper “We would advise people to wash their hands after handling banknotes, and avoid touching their face”. This is not telling people not to use banknotes.
I went to the shops this morning and noted the number of surfaces where mutual contact with others’ hands occurs – it is everywhere! Even touching your card to a contactless machine often accidentally leads to “contact” with the surface of the machine. The retail assistant handled all the goods I purchased in order to swipe them, I then also picked them up, then I was handed a paper receipt. This is a highly habitualised set of actions that we all undertake on an almost daily basis, without even thinking about it. Sure, we can refuse receipts too, but sometimes these are necessary, and these are by far not the only things with which we come into mutual contact when shopping.
I believe the thinking needs to go a lot deeper. Shops may start to further refuse cash (as this trend has already begun, for different reasons), leading to the unbanked and others who rely on cash to be prejudiced against yet further and going hungry, and indeed without the hand sanitiser that others can purchase if they are lucky enough to find a shop that stocks it at the moment! Telling people not to use banknotes – although not the actual message that the WHO and BoE have put out there – is not sensible, and the press should not be misreporting this. We should be aware that it poses one of the transfer risks, but like every other possible way that we may come into contact with the coronavirus, the over-riding sensible ways in which we can avoid contact with surfaces of all types that many people touch, the focus should be on awareness and cleaning hands, etc. Maybe a more sensible piece of advice could be to wear rubber gloves and avoid contact with your face. Again, not a perfect solution, but the scaremongering by some of the press with the misreporting of advice needs to stop.
This quote in the Guardian is one of the more sensible: ‘Although coronavirus can be transmitted via inanimate objects, the odds of contracting it in this way are low. “The amount of virus that is potentially on an inanimate object is usually very small,” says Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, an expert in infection and immunity at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. She explains that there typically wouldn’t be much coronavirus on a person’s fingertips, and it would still have to get past your respiratory system to infect you. “Your respiratory system is very good at filtering out viruses,” Tait-Burkard says.’
While organisations and initiatives such as Which?, Cash Essentials and Access To Cash continue to rightly press for cash to stay, it is careless scaremongering like this that could help see it off, and disadvantage many, as well as restricting how we all pay for goods and services. Many digital payments companies are in favour of the end of cash, for perhaps obvious reasons, but there are some, like Shrap that are working hard to keep cash going AND making it easier to use and be accepted. No-one has mentioned coins as a transmitter, interestingly. The perception is often that they are not hygienic to use. It’s innovation like Shrap’s offering – which is a digital replacement of coins when they are handed across as change, usually from banknotes – that needs to be pursued so that “cash” whether in physical form or not, stays in circulation for all.