The World Health Organisation’s spokeswoman Fadela Chaib sought to clarify comments in a widely cited article in the U.K media reporting that the WHO had said banknotes may be spreading the new coronavirus and customers should wash their hands after touching banknotes because infectious Covid-19 may cling to the surface for a number of days.
The report in the British media said the WHO had suggested customers use contactless payments instead.
“WHO did NOT say banknotes would transmit COVID-19, we issued any warnings or statements about this,” Chaib said in an email.
“We were asked if we thought banknotes could transmit COVID-19 and we said you should wash your hands after handling money, especially if handling or eating food.” Doing so is “good hygiene practice,” she added.
COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the new virus SARS-CoV-2, had sickened at least 101,601 people and killed 3,460 worldwide as of Friday afternoon, with most cases occurring in mainland China, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s center for systems Science and engineering.
The U.S. had at least 259 confirmed cases and 14 deaths as of Friday evening.
Concerns have mounted over whether currency might play role in spreading the virus.
A U.S. Federal Reserve spokesperson told Reuters on Friday that the banking system had started quarantining dollars from Asia prior to their re-circulation, with regional Fed banks putting aside the physical currency for seven to 10 days as a precautionary step.
The WHO also said that “the disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales,” and recommends keeping more than three feet away from a sick person.
People can possibly get the disease by touching an infected object or surface “and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” but experts don’t believe this is the main mode of transmission, the CDC says.