As the coronavirus pandemic spreads to many aspects of our lives, some businesses are refusing cash payments as a precautionary measure against the outbreak. However, by only accepting digital transactions we risk excluding people who rely on cash to pay.
Over the last few weeks, we've heard these messages repeated loud and clear – wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing and stay away if you’re unwell. Never have we been so conscious of what we touch.
As the retail sector scramble to address staff safety, a number of businesses have stopped accepting cash. There’s a growing fear that physical currency could spread coronavirus, and this is theoretically one way to lower the risk of transmission between shoppers and cashiers.
And fair enough. Something we can’t see with the naked eye is wreaking havoc around the world, and we’re all playing our part to slow the spread of the virus as scientists work on a cure.
For many of us, contactless payment is business as usual. We carry less cash than we used to, and we’ve grown accustomed to the convenience of ‘tap and go’. But for some, cash continues to play an important role in our lives.
According to the Reserve Bank of Australia, cash accounts for a significant share of payments for some segments of the community. The Reserve Bank’s 2016 Consumer Payments Survey showed there are clear differences in the use of cash among various segments of the Australian population.
Most notably, cash is the most common payment method for respondents aged 65 and over. The survey also suggests that lower income households use cash more than households in the highest income brackets.
In Sweden, a country that has been leading the way to eliminate cash, the government has recently stopped the removal of cash in fear that it is leaving behind vulnerable members of society. In the UK, a review completed in 2019 on the rapid decline of cash usage found that around one sixth of the British population would struggle in a cashless society. The government called for quick action before the change was irreversible.
Clearly, getting rid of cash could have serious consequences for society. So how should we handle it?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that touching and handling cash and ATMs in public areas is considered low risk. Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the COVID-19 team at the WHO, said there is no evidence that cash is transmitting the novel coronavirus.
In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that the virus can spread by penetrating the skin on the hands. Getting COVID-19 on the hands can only lead to infection if it transfers from the hands to the mouth, nose or eyes. The best preventative measure is to take standard flu hygiene precautions and wash hands with soap after using any form of payment – cash, smartphone, credit card or payment terminal – to reduce the risk of infection.
Retailers who continue to accept cash payments are taking extra precautionary measures. Staff are instructed to wear gloves, and advised on how to give and take coins from customers with minimal contact. Some merchants accept cash in restricted lanes that pay particular attention to sanitisation.
As a leading secure cash management provider, Armaguard Group is taking significant steps to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as we work closely with central and major banks to ensure cash remains available in our communities when and where people need it.
At a time when the most vulnerable need our support, we must remember to protect the freedom to pay for goods and services as we choose. Including cash payments in a range of payment choices is integral to guarantee access for everyone.