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Experts play down likelihood of banknotes spreading coronavirus

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Experts play down likelihood of banknotes spreading coronavirus
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Banknotes are not likely to carry coronavirus, experts say, despite some reports that they could risk spreading the virus.

Most transmission of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease is through person-to-person contact and not from touching objects.

"We do not know [how long the virus lasts on banknotes], but we estimate not longer than two hours," said Stephanie Brickman from the World Health Organization.

"The virus will not survive for very long on surfaces, particularly on a dry surface like a banknote," Brickman added.

She said that while it could be "possible" to contract the virus "by touching a surface or object" it is not considered "a main source of infection."

In early February the Chinese government reportedly told banks to sterilise money before issuing it in order to curb the virus' spread. In Iran, people have been encouraged to stop using banknotes as officials strive to contain the outbreak.

But there's no conclusive evidence to suggest that this could actually curb the spread of the coronavirus.

"Disinfecting and bringing new notes into circulation would benefit more physiologically than actually reduce the infection rates drastically," said Sizun Jiang, a virology expert and postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University.

Jiang added that new banknotes in circulation, for instance, would be just a small fraction of notes already in use.

"More importantly, there are countless other surfaces that we interact with frequently than conventional banknotes," he added. Minimising contact with surfaces, avoiding crowds, and resisting touching your face are better ways of containing the virus.

But ultimately, more information is needed for the "persistence" of this virus on surfaces, says Jiang.

"General studies of coronaviruses indicate that they can persist for days on hard surfaces, while this number can increase with lower temperatures and higher humidity," he added.