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WHO recommends using contactless payments

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, it's important to be careful what you touch, including money.

The World Health Organization has stated that money handling may be a means of transferring COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus at the center of the current global outbreak. This has led the WHO to suggest that contactless forms of payment, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay, may help mitigate the transmission of the virus while in public.

“It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses,” the WHO shared in a statement. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that include the common cold virus, the flu virus, the SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus and the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or the camel flu) virus.

“Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).”

Contactless pay systems, which rely on near-field communication to transmit purchasing data to the credit card reader, have become popular because they are more secure than using a credit card directly. These systems create a one-time payment code for the transaction that cannot be stolen or spammed. As these systems also do not come into physical contact with any other surface, using them reduces the risk of accidental contact with a contaminated surface.

COVID-19 and its virus are still largely not understood. As of the morning of March 16, 2020, there have been 324 diagnosed cases of the disease in Canada, with 1 death. Every province and territory has reported at least one case except Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The hardest-hit provinces so far are Ontario and British Columbia, with each reporting 145 and 73 cases, respectively. The disease is considered to be highly contagious, with symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath.

How to set up contactless payments

If your credit card is equipped with NFC technology and has the contactless symbol in the right-hand corner, you can simply hold your card near a checkout card reader to pay without touching. If not, you may be able to use a contactless payment app on your smartphone. First check if the bank or company that issued your card supports contactless payment, as only certain brands do. For reference, Finder has lists of banks you can use with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or credit cards that use Google Pay.

1. Pick your app. Major smartphone brands like Apple, Samsung and Google typically come with their contactless payment app pre-installed. If it isn’t, you should be able to find Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Pay in your respective app store. You can also install a third-party contactless payment app like PayPal and bank-based wallets.

2. Set up an account. Once installed, you’ll have to log in to an existing account (e.g. Google, Apple ID or PayPal) or create a new account.

3. Add your payment cards. Once set up, you can add your credit or debit cards to the app — often by entering the card number, expiration date and security code.

4. Look for the contactless payment symbol at checkout. Not all card readers at checkout are enabled for contactless payments, so watch for the contactless symbol, which is a series of four sound waves and may also show a hand holding a card near it.

5. Pay without touching. Unlock your phone and hold it near the contactless card reader to pay with your default card, or open your contactless payment app, choose which card you want to use and then hold your phone near the card reader.

How COVID-19 is transmitted

Despite there being a possibility of infection from touching a contaminated surface, most healthcare professionals attest that this is not the primary way coronaviruses transmit from person to person. “The virus is spread person to person most of the time, and may be spread by a surface if someone with the virus touched a surface that you then touch, but this isn’t the most common way of transmission,” Dr. Danielle DonDiego of Your Doctors Online.

“Handing cards or cash back and forth to others may potentiate the spread. However, the most susceptible way to transmit this virus is person to person via respiratory droplets.”

As a respiratory disease, the most common way to contract COVID-19 is to be within six feet of an infected person that recently coughed or sneezed, or to shake hands or touch an infected person and then touch your face without washing your hand first.

While using contactless payment will reduce your risks, ultimately the best defense may be to stay aware and proactive. Wash your hands frequently and limit your exposure to other infected individuals. It may also be that the best way to shop risk-free is to shop from home.

“People can calm themselves down by taking sensible precautions to wash their hands each time they come indoors, before and after toileting, changing diapers and other hands-on activities. Practice not touching your face, where it is easy to absorb germs, viruses and bacteria with the mouth, nose and eyes,” Yocheved Golani, editor and writer with e-counseling.

“Focus on the rest of life, indulge in humor, fun and pleasant activities to keep your spirits up. Talk yourself into being optimistic and go on with the rest of life as best as possible.”

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