Coronavirus triggers China to destroy, quarantine cash in outbreak hotspots, reports say

A branch of China’s central bank is gathering old paper currency from areas deemed high-risk for the coronavirus and destroying the cash to prevent the contagion from spreading, reports said Sunday.

The Guangzhou branch of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) ordered the destruction of all paper banknotes from hospitals, fresh food markets and buses in areas exposed to the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure the safety of cash dealings, the South China Morning Post reported.

Potentially contaminated bills from other hotspots, including the central province of Hubei, the epicenter of the virus, will be quarantined and sterilized before recirculation, PBOC Deputy Governor Fan Yifei told reporters at a news conference, according to Bloomberg News. He said money from lower-risk areas will be quarantined for a week.

“Money from key virus-hit areas will be sanitized with ultraviolet rays or heated and locked up for at least 14 days before it is distributed again,” Fan said.

The Chinese government also has frozen the transfer and distribution of old cash across provinces and between cities hit hardest by the epidemic, he said.

The bank removed 7.8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) from the southern province of Guangdong between Feb. 3 and Feb. 13, while adding nearly 3 billion yuan ($430,000) back into circulation, the Morning Post reported.

As billions in banknotes are being collected for disinfection or destruction, the PBOC has already distributed 600 billion yuan ($85.6 billion) in fresh currency throughout the country since Jan. 17, according to the outlet.

On Monday, a slight uptick in new COVID-19 cases was reported in China. The death toll on the mainland has increased to 1,770 from among 70,548 cases since the outbreak began two months ago, according to China's governmental health authority.