COVID-19: popular use of electronic and scriptural money in the global health crisis

Gaby KABUE 
Managing Partner

Abstract

Practically all countries in the world are struck by the unprecedented global health crisis: COVID-19. The virus has a fatality rate estimated between 2% and 3%.1 It originated in China, precisely in Wuhan City, considered as birthplace of the pandemic. In the DRC, according to the latest INRB statistics published on 22 June 2020, COVID-19 has already contaminated 6027 people and caused 135 deaths across the country.2 Since the beginning of the pandemic, several States in the world have enacted drastic health measures to minimize the risk of contamination. Among these measures, we mention confinement, social distancing, quarantine, closing of borders and public places, wearing of masks and/or gloves, compulsory hand washing, movement restrictions, etc. However, despite these measures, certain commercial activities remain open, in particular pharmacies, petrol stations, supermarkets, etc. However, it should be noted that people are engaged in the handling of banknotes and coins during this COVID-19 period, which may constitute a potential risk of contamination with coronavirus. According to the study published on 6 February 2020 by the University of Ruhr, coronavirus cells could persist from an average of 4 to 5 days on certain surfaces such as paper or glass. Faced with this risk of spread linked to the manipulation of banknotes and coins, the Central Banks of the States recommend the popular use of electronic and cashless money instead of banknotes and coins during this pandemic.

Keywords: electronic money, scriptural money , covid-19, risk, banknotes, electronic payment.

 

 

 

1. Issues and spread risks of coronavirus through banknotes

Facing the exponential propagation of the coronavirus pandemic which affects the globe, another issue deserves to be considered seriously: Does the use of banknotes and coins constitute a danger likely to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 ? Should cash payments be banned or reduced? The answers to these questions diverge.

Indeed, some countries in the world such as China, have resolved to disinfect their currencies with ultra-violet and very high temperatures3 before placing it under seal and isolating for 7 or 14 days.Beijing decided to destroy even those who come from over-contaminated areas. South Korea has also removed all banknotes from circulation for two weeks, enough to thoroughly clean it. And in the United States, dollars coming back from Asia are now quarantined. The Federal Reserve stores it for 7 to 10 days before putting them back into circulation.

However, other countries do not consider the risk of spreading coronavirus through banknotes. This is the case of France through the Banque of France which maintains that there is no sign that banknotes are particularly carriers of the virus. It insists only on the consideration of barrier gestures.5
 

2. Actions of the Central Banks in the fight against the risk of  COVID-19 spread

In front of the crisis linked to this pandemic, the Central Banks around the world have not stood aside to take actions to promote electronic payments;  a way for them to fight the coronavirus spread.

Following the example of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) which published on 21 March 2020, the press release relating to measures to promote electronic payments in the context of the fight against coronavirus spread.6 In addition, it invited the entire banking community and the BCEAO electronic money establishments to encourage people to limit physical contact through the popular use of digital payments. Among these measures, mention is made on relaxation conditions related to opening electronic money accounts.

In the same perspective, the Central Bank of Congo (BCC) has published on 24 March 2020 a press release on measures aiming to mitigate the negative impact of COVID-19 on the Congolese economy. In this press release, the BCC invited the Congolese population, electronic money institutions (EMI) and credit institutions to strongly use electronic payment means in particular M-Pesa, Airtel-Money, Orange-Money as well as the use of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) to reduce the risk of COVID-19 contamination from handling cash.

For this purpose, the issuing institute has taken the following measures: 1) supplying banks with good quality and sufficient quantity of banknotes, in order to allow their ATMs to work out properly and respond permanently to needs (2) instruction to banks to disinfect banknotes before launching  into circulation;(3) cancellation of fees on electronic money transactions and variable fees on transactions lower to CDF 2,500,000 in the RTGS and ACH system, until the end of 2020; (4) raising the limit of daily electronic money transaction amounts to USD 2,500, or its equivalent in CDF, and removing the ceiling on the monthly electronic transaction limit;(5) promotion of bilateral interoperability, on the one hand, between electronic money institutions and, on the other hand, with other financial institutions, to facilitate transfers and payments in small businesses.

In addition, the Central Bank of Congo has highlighted the use of electronic and scriptural money through businesses and public services for the settlement of invoices and the payment of taxes and duties.7

The Central Bank of Congo measures relating to the use of electronic payment means, in particular mobile money and bank cards, have the main objective of limiting physical contact during transactions in order to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

As a reminder, electronic money is a form of money that contains specific characteristics, in particular “dematerialization”. The dematerialization means strict minimum reduction on the use of material elements.Ultimately, electronic and scriptural money remain ideally recommended means of payment during this period of global health crisis, in order to avoid the risk of spreading COVID-19.

References

1 https://www.ouest-france.fr/sante/virus/connait-vraiment-le-taux-de-mortalite-du-coronavirus-6717061( consulted on 23 June 2020)

2 https://twitter.com/OMSRDCONGO/status/1275394059218100225

3 https://www.20minutes.fr/societe/2741411-20200316-coronavirus-peut-etre-contamine-billets-banque-pieces-monnaie (consulted on 23 June 2020)

4 https://www.bfmtv.com/economie/coronavirus-faut-il-desinfecter-les-billetsde-banque-1872061.html(consulted on 23 June 2020)

5 http://www.leparisien.fr/societe/coronavirus-la-chine-met-ses-billets-debanque-en-quarantaine-15-02-2020-8260275.php (consulted le 23 June 2020)

6 https://www.bceao.int/fr/communique-presse/communique-relatifaux-mesures-de-promotion-des-paiements-electroniques-dans-le(consulted on 23 June 2020)

7 BCC, Presse release ” Measures taken by the CBC to mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy”, 24 Mars 2020

8A. CHRISTIAN IVINZA LEPAPA, Electronic payment and electronic transaction: basic concepts and principles . [pdf], Bruxelles, Bookelis, April 2018, p.22, (consulted on 23 June 2020)

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