Coronavirus: Is it legal for businesses to refuse cash as a result of COVID-19?

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In an effort to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus, a host of stores and some government services have chosen to not accept cash, instead only allowing transactions to be made through debit or credit.

This has led some Canadians to ask the question, “is this legal?”

A spokesperson for the Bank of Canada said that it is up to the seller to determine the method of payment.

“No law requires anyone to accept bank notes or any other form of payment to settle a commercial transaction,” Josianne Ménard told Global News through email.

She said the fact that bills are often described as legal tender is irrelevant.

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“While the term ‘legal tender’ describes the money approved in a country for paying debts or settling commercial transactions, it does not force anyone to accept that form of payment,” Ménard explained.

While it is legal for businesses to not accept cash, the Bank of Canada recently issued a statement asking businesses to keep accepting it as it noted that some individuals are limited in terms of payment options.

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However, in the Bank of Canada’s statement, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and scientist with the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, admits that COVID-19 could attach itself to money.

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“We know that SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) can stick to surfaces for a few hours to a few days, and this may include hard currency,” he said.

“Still, we can find ways to ensure that all Canadians have access to essential goods and services, even if they are using cash,” Bogoch said, pointing out that there are ways around the issues.

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“Risk can be mitigated in retail settings using a variety of methods, including ensuring access to hand hygiene for all employees.”

Ménard also noted that the risk in handling money was similar to other objects which one might easily come in contact with.

“The risks posed from handling bank notes are no greater than those posed by touching other common surfaces that can come into contact with bacteria like doorknobs, kitchen counters, and handrails,” she explained. “We encourage Canadians to use the method of payment that they are the most comfortable with.”

Some Asian countries took currency out of circulation in an attempt to put an end to the virus.

Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the COVID-19 team at the World Health Organization, told the Canadian Press that there is no evidence that cash is transmitting the novel coronavirus.

But people should “always” wash their hands after using cash, she said in an interview.

*With files from Canadian Press

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