KARACHI: Pakistan’s central bank has ordered commercial banks to quarantine paper money received from health facilities, as banknotes may be spreading the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced on Monday.
The directive comes amid an increase in the number of infections recorded in Pakistan, where the tally exceeded 900 on Tuesday.
“Instructions have been provided by the SBP to clean, disinfect, seal and quarantine all cash being collected from hospitals and clinics and to block the circulation of such cash in the market,” the central bank said in a statement following a video meeting of commercial bank presidents with SBP governor Dr. Reza Baqir.
Banks are required to send daily reports on cash collection from health facilities for the SBP to be able to supply sufficient amounts of notes, while the collected money will be subject to a 15-day quarantine.
As disinfection procedures have yet to be in place, for the time being the SBP will be supplying banks with new bills.
“The cash that banks would receive from hospitals would be quarantined and disinfected. We are considering ways to disinfect such notes and that would be done through medically approved procedures. For now, we are trying to provide new notes,” SBP spokesman Abid Qamar told Arab News on Tuesday.
As banknotes can carry bacteria or viruses from persons who have touched them, hand washing is necessary after handling money. In Pakistan, however, it is a common habit for people to lick their fingers while counting bills.
“This way of cash counting is very dangerous,” Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, secretary general of Pakistan Medical Association, told Arab News. “It is advised that if people count banknotes, they should immediately sanitize their hands.”
The central bank’s decision may reduce some of the dangers posed by the handling of money. Shopkeepers say the move is timely in light of the current outbreak.
“Though we are exercising caution while handling cash, it still remains a danger because we don’t know which note could be infected,” said Ahmed Hussain, a grocery seller.
Although the central bank has been encouraging electronic payments, cash remains dominant in Pakistan.
“We deal with dozens of people every day,” bread seller Wali Muhammad said. “We know we are in danger, but we can’t afford machines (for non-cash payment).”