KAMPALA – When the President deleted our initial days off the original 42, many Ugandans had become more responsible and had come to terms with the fact the covid 19 was serious. Infact I witnessed an incident where bodaboda cyclists beat up their colleague for not wearing a mask. To be honest with you, if I were the President of Uganda, I would not have locked down the country after the initial warning.
Almost every Ugandan has lost a friend or relative to covid 19 and many will tell you that the disease is real and can no longer be taken for granted. I have witnessed people in Kampala washing their hand, practicing social distancing, avoiding crowds, moving with and using sanitisers, and above all wearing masks even in places where they are not necessary. Sadly, covid 19 cases are still escalating with a fear that even after the 42 days; the President will have no option but to add a few more days to stop the virus from spreading and claiming lives.
It is for this very reason that I picked interest in establishing why covid 19 cases were increasing despite the fact the Ugandans were religiously observing SOPs. My research pointed to the physical use of paper money and was aiding the spread of covid 19. Imagine money in the hands of a covid 19 patient travelling from Kasese to Kampala and within the next 6 hours it would have reached Jinja. Within the next 6 hours, that money would have reached Gulu and on its way to Arua. Those receiving it in all these districts will either use it without sanitizing or put it in their pocket or bag which also bears their spare mask, phone, keys and a handkerchief.
The above practice of mixing money and the things we use in our daily lives is common especially among Ugandan. Very few people would want to waste their time and resources sanitizing money that they intend to spend. The spare mask, phone or handkerchief will be picked from the pocket or the bag and used on the face or close to the face. Is this not the surest way of spreading covid 19 from our everyday devices to the parts close to or aligned to the human respiratory system?
Yes, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the disease COVID-19) can survive on surfaces like money, phones and keys and is transferable from money to these devices. How long the virus survives is dependent on the surface itself as well as environmental conditions. At most, the virus will persist on those surfaces for a number of days under optimal conditions.
Preliminary findings suggest that COVID-19 may persist on money for a longer period of time than paper-based products because our money is very dirty and often mishandled and can change hands more than 10 times a day. Current research has shown that cash may be a potential vector of transmissible diseases, such as bacteria and viruses; sadly, no research has been done on COVID-19 virus specifically to establish its life span on paper money. For this reason, our government has only recommended proper hand washing or sanitizing after handling money and moving towards cashless payment methods when possible.
The novel corona virus can remain infectious for days on banknotes, according to a research by the Australian Centre for diseases Preparedness. These findings reinforce the importance of hand-washing or sanitizer after visiting an ATM or touching cash money. The researchers tested how long the corona virus survived on both paper and polymer banknotes at various temperatures. They found that the corona virus can survive “to at least 28 days” on both types of banknotes, which is significantly longer than the seasonal flu virus’s “demonstrated survival up to 17 days” at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius or 68 degrees Fahrenheit). The persistence of virus on paper money is of particular significance, considering the frequency of circulation and the potential for transfer of viable virus both between individuals and geographic locations.
It is also noted that prior to SARS-Cov-2 being declared a pandemic, China had commenced decontamination of its paper based currency, suggesting concerns over transmission via paper banknotes existed at the time, wrote the researchers. The United States and South Korea also quarantined banknotes as a result of the pandemic. The use of notes has dropped sharply since the pandemic hit in March 2020, and the Bank said one reason could be fears that cash can carry the deadly corona virus for some times and can be transferable to other devices.
What is important to note is that the corona virus is transmitted mostly through direct contact with an infected person, especially the virus-laden particles they emit while coughing, sneezing, speaking, singing and even breathing. SARS-CoV-2 may also contaminate surfaces when these particles settle, creating so-called fomites that the researchers said may play a lesser, though important role in transmission of the virus. While the precise role of surface transmission, the degree of surface contact and the amount of virus required for infection is yet to be determined, establishing how long this virus remains viable on paper, money is critical for developing risk mitigation strategies in high contact areas.
Many modern countries encouraged their citizens to go cashless after reopening following the first lockdown, shops and hospitality venues encouraged consumers to make contactless payments, while some refused to take any cash. However, the research conducted by banks found that the risk of getting corona virus from handling bank notes was much lower than that of contracting it from breathing air particles in a shop, or from touching items like shopping baskets, door handles or self-checkout terminals.
In January this year, a friend of mine carried out a research on the possibility of paper money carrying the virus. The study involved a very high dose of corona virus, equivalent to someone coughing or sneezing directly on to the bank note, and included tests on paper. After contamination, the notes were stored at room temperature and repeatedly tested. The study found that the level of virus remained stable for an hour, but over the next five hours it declined rapidly, and after 24 hours it had dropped to less than 1% on both types of note.
But none the less, I have already mentioned that our money, especially the denominations of 1000, 2000 and 5000 are dirty and often mishandled. Many Ugandans don’t have respect for these notes and are visibly dirty and obviously contaminated. It is these same notes that are regularly exchanged and can move from one person to another more than 10 times a day as they are regularly used for change and giving balances off the bigger denominations. We cannot rule out these notes carrying the virus for some days. Being a cash economy, let us take precautions and hand wash or sanitize or use mobile money to avoid gambling with our lives.
Roger Wadada Musaalo is a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician