As the world continues to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic and India’s numbers also rapidly rising, we continue to learn new facts about the virus and its possible ways of transmission. We know that social distancing is crucial in bending the curve, and the strategy seems to be working. But living completely without any contact from the rest of the world is impossible, and we need to keep finding new ways to minimize the risk. 

One such issue has been related to handling cash. It changes multiple hands and can be circulated along with long distances. And although WHO has said that it is yet to find evidence that currencies can transmit the coronavirus, there have been reports that the COVID-19 can survive on paper and metal from a few hours to three days. Given this, experts are suggesting to maintain precautions while handling cash and also adhere to strict social distancing norms while visiting banks and ATM kiosks. We take a look at some steps that you can take to mitigate the risk of infection:

Precautions during bank visits

You must restrict all unnecessary visits to your bank unless there is an emergency. You should also keep your patience with bank tellers as banks are now functioning with reduced staff and under severe restrictions to prevent crowding of personnel in their branches. On the occasion where you just have to make a visit, keep in mind the following:

  • Check your bank’s working hours and limitations on cash withdrawals

SBI has set up a staggering cash withdrawal plan where customers with their account numbers ending with a certain digit can withdraw money on a particular day. Other banks have also limited their working hours and only allow a specific number of customers to enter the branch. Check these norms before your visit and go only when you can transact.

  • Practice social distancing in the branch

Most cash counters in banks have made it mandatory to maintain a specific distance with the teller while collecting or depositing your cash. You must also keep a distance of at least 6 feet with your adjacent customer while in the branch. Leave as soon as you are done, finish all your tasks in a single visit and avoid multiple visits.

  • Do not touch any surface

Avoid using the bank’s pen or pin during your visit and carry your own. Also, do not rest your hand casually on any surface while waiting for your turn and ask the bank’s personnel to operate the door. Fill out the necessary paperwork at home and be extra sure that you do not keep anything for the bank. Most banks are also providing hand sanitisers to their customers, so use it.

Precautions in ATM kiosks

ATM booths are other areas where people congregate to transact cash. And the machine’s surfaces can harbour the COVID-19 for a while. Here is what you need to do during your ATM visits, along with maintaining social distancing within the kiosk:

  • Avoid touching the keys directly with your fingers

Use a handkerchief or paper tissue to operate the keys. Store the handkerchief in plastic before you can wash it and dispose of the tissue in a closed bin once you have left the ATM booth. Also, do not touch any other part of the machine or the booth. Transact and leave quickly once done.

  • Carry a separate bag or wallet for your cash

The cash you receive from the ATM cannot go in your bag without separation from the items that you regularly use. You cannot allow the money to come in contact with your phone or groceries. Maintain a small separate bag just for money and carry that when you are out.

  • Sanitise your card after use

Apart from the black magnetic stripe on the back and the golden SIM in the front, wipe your card thoroughly with a cloth dipped in an alcohol-based cleaning agent. Follow this routine when you return from the ATM or the bank as the hard surface of the card is a potential harbour for the virus.

Precautions while buying necessities

While purchasing your supplies, there is no alternative to using hard cash. This naturally calls for precautions as experts are yet to precisely determine exactly how long the coronavirus can survive on currencies (or if at all). Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Carry the exact change

As you are only buying essentials, you are likely to know the total approximate cost of your purchases. Try to carry the exact change and avoid receiving any money back from the retailer. However, if you have to take change back, follow the separate-bag rule as mentioned above. Retailers are also exercising caution, and if you happen to know them, you can set up an informal account with them and carry on the remaining balance for your next visit.

  • Do not hold money in your hand

The next shop might just be a few steps away, but that is no excuse to keep holding the cash in your hand. That can easily come in touch with the clothes you are wearing, the shopping bag you are holding, or the food you are buying. Immediately place the remaining cash in your bag upon receiving it.

  • Wash your hands after touching money

This is an age-old rule, but its necessity has come to light now. Do not touch your food items right after transacting cash. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or sanitise them every time you deal with money. If not coronavirus, currency notes and coins aren’t exactly the cleanest items in the world.

General guidelines to follow while handling cash

  • Use digital transactions

It goes without saying, but use net banking, digital wallets, and UPI whenever necessary. The RBI has directed Indian consumers to use digital payments as much as possible. Given the current scenario, this is a good time to stick to online orders or transact via mobile wallets, even if you haven’t used them in a while.

  • Do not touch your face

Consciously prevent yourself from touching your face, nose, or mouth when you are outside. Increase your vigilance if you’re handling cash. The COVID-19 can survive for hours on your skin, and you must not touch your face without washing your hands at any cost.

  • Wear a mask

India has already made it mandatory to wear a mask while you are out. You can use a homemade cotton mask if the suggested N95 is not available. It will not only help to prevent the virus from entering your body but also keep your face protected from your unwashed hands. Also, learn how to wear a mask correctly. 

  • Keep a sanitiser handy

Washing your hands always might not be possible when you’re outside. But you can quickly sanitise your hands when you are frequently exchanging cash. Carry a small bottle in your pocket and keep sanitising whenever possible.

  • Avoid mixing notes and coins

There is little and inconclusive evidence on how long the virus can last on surfaces, but this much is known that this duration depends on the nature of the surface. So, keep your coins and notes separately and avoid mixing them during the transaction as well.

The People’s Bank of China had reported that they were disinfecting and destroying old cash for 14 days before resuming circulation again. South Korea’s central bank followed the same routine. For your safety, you can keep your cash in the sun or follow a disinfection routine as suggested by other sources. Precautions are your greatest weapons as the COVID-19 rages on. Stay at home, stay safe, and be cautious.