Health experts have previously warned that the virus can survive on inert surfaces long enough to infect new hosts, although the risk is believed to be lower than human-to-human contact.
But a spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO) told the Telegraph on Monday that the virus can remain infectious on banknotes for several days.
The Bank of England has also acknowledged that banknotes ‘can carry bacteria or viruses’ and encourages shoppers to wash their hands after using them.
The central bank has nonetheless stopped short of disinfecting and isolating used banknotes, as its counterparts in China and South Korea have done.
A spokesperson told the newspaper: ‘The risk posed by handling a polymer note is no greater than touching any other common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards.’
The WHO’s public disease prevention advice still focuses on hygiene and maintaining distance from other people.
Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, last week said there is no evidence of cases of coronavirus being spread via euro banknotes.
It added that ‘the probability of contagion with a virus via a banknote is very low in comparison with other surfaces’, and that door handles, hand rails, light switches and shopping baskets are more likely to spread viruses.
It is unclear exactly how long the virus behind Covid-19 can survive without a host, but it varies widely according to the type of material and conditions like temperature and humidity.
The director of the US’ Centre for Disease Control (CDC) told members of Congress last week: ‘On copper and steel, it’s pretty typical - it’s pretty much about two hours.’
‘But I will say on other surfaces - cardboard or plastic - it’s longer, and so we are looking at this.’
Studies of similar coronaviruses have concluded that human coronaviruses can remain infectious on inert surfaces for up to nine days at room temperature. It is unclear how similar the new strain is.
The WHO and the US’ Centre for Disease Control say there is little to no risk from parcels and letters from abroad as the virus cannot survive for days on inanimate objects.
Medical experts have said that viruses of this kind tend to survive the longest in low-temperature, low-humidity environments.
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