Banknotes are not spreading COVID-19

Mumbai: India’s heavy demand for cash--nearly 94% of transactions were made out in cash as per a recent survey--is unlikely to have significant implications for the spread of COVID-19 in the country. This is because there is, at best, a weak correlation between the amount of paper currency in circulation per individual and the virus’ transmission rates across countries, showed an analysis of recent global data.

On March 16, 2020, in the week leading to the lockdown, the Reserve Bank of India had suggested increased use of cashless payment methods to curb the spread of the virus. Communication around cash usage became a bigger problem when advisories from the World Health Organization (WHO) and central banks across the world suggested that cash could carry and spread the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, as it is now known.

To investigate this alleged link between currency in circulation and the spread of COVID-19, we looked at correlations across countries for currency in circulation as of 2018 and confirmed COVID-19 cases as of July 15. The figure below plots the currency per capita (in terms of hundreds of US dollars) to the total cases per million persons in that country. (This does not permit any comment on causality, and is based heavily on reported infection rates, which may be underestimated for lack of testing.)

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The cashless society from an ethical point of view

The debate about the move towards a cashless society has been at the center of the scene for several years, now. Various angles have been taken by economists, politicians, banking institutions and sociologists. Beyond the technicalities of the debate, lies the question of freedom, of inter-citizen solidarity and of governmental responsibility. The debate cannot remain in the hands of financial specialists, it is first and foremost an ethical, political and societal issue.

The cashless society from an ethical point of view

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