The spread of the novel coronavirus – also known as COVID-19 – began impacting economies worldwide long before the illness was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11.
Since mid-February, China’s banks have been disinfecting and sealing used banknotes, which are then stored for upwards of two weeks before being used again. Sterilization treatments include ultraviolet light and heat, according to People’s Bank of China Deputy Governor Fan Yifei.
Coronaviruses – like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and COVID-19 – “may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days,” according to the WHO (compared to about two days for the average flu virus).
As fears about handling money grow worldwide, the WHO is suggesting people use contactless payments or thoroughly wash their hands after using banknotes.
“We know that money changes hands frequently and can pick up all sorts of bacteria and viruses,” a WHO spokesman told the Telegraph. “We would advise people to wash their hands after handling banknotes, and avoid touching their face. When possible it would also be advisable to use contactless payments to reduce the risk of transmission.”
In February, South Korea’s central bank also stopped accepting foreign coins and banknotes and closed its currency museum to limit coronavirus’ spread.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong International Coin and Antique Watch Fair (originally scheduled for March 24-26) is cancelled, and the Eighth Hong Kong Coin Show is postponed from March until May.
The Singapore International Coin Fair (SICF) – also originally slated for this month – was postponed to Aug. 14-16.
“It is with an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our customers, partners, and staff that the SICF organizing committee has postponed the upcoming Singapore International Coin Fair due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Asia,” reads a press release issued by organizers. “This decision was made in following guidelines set forth by the Singapore Ministry of Health.”
The International Numismatic Fair “Numismata” also cancelled its March 7-8 show in Munich, Germany, last week.
Several U.S. counties and cities are banning large gatherings of 250-500 people or more while the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer have all postponed their respective seasons.
In mid-February, Bitcoin was trading above $10,000 as investors sought refuge from COVID-19’s economic impact. The cryptocurrency’s most recent low – in December 2018 – hit about $3,000 US, down from its all-time high of $20,000 US in 2017.
Gold is also currently trading at a seven-year high.
As of March 11, COVID-19 has hit more than 120 countries with nearly 125,000 cases and about 4,300 deaths worldwide.