The current coronavirus pandemic has the potential to hasten the move toward digital payment options like central bank-issued digital currencies, according to the Bank of International Settlements. In a recent bulletin, the bank noted that there’s increasing public concern about physical cash’s potential for transmitting the virus, despite central banks’ active efforts to dispel those worries.
BIS reported an increase in media questions about the safety of physical cash and observed that internet queries for search words like “virus” and “cash” have surged in the last several months. Moreover, that increase in searches has come in areas where cash is often used for small, daily purchases, like Australia, France, Canada, the UK, and the United States.
The bank acknowledged research that shows some viruses can survive on banknotes for days at a time but noted that scientists agree that the risk of banknote transmission is low. More importantly, there are apparently no confirmed instances of such transmission for this coronavirus.
Still, the BIS believes that these fears are likely to motivate consumers to choose other forms of payment. Because debit cards and other physical instruments also involve physical contact, the bank suggested that there may be growing calls for central banks to issue their own digital currencies.