People using ATMs and spending cash should be maintaining hygiene precautions, according to the UK’s cash machine network.
Link said that, as expected, consumers’ ATM and cash use has fallen significantly – by around 50% – over the past few days.
It said this trend is likely to continue as people spend more time at home under stricter coronavirus measures.
Link said it recommends that people maintain hygiene precautions for contact with surfaces whenever they are using ATMs, spending cash, or making payments.
This means washing their hands as soon as possible and trying not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth.
Link is working closely with its members, regulators, industry bodies and others to ensure consumers can still access their cash during the Covid-19 outbreak.
It said that, looking ahead, it is very likely that some consumers’ cash usage habits will have fundamentally changed.
But it said the requirement for cash access, as a contingency and for vulnerable consumers, will be more important than ever. A fundamental review and potential restructuring of the country’s ATM network and its business model may therefore be necessary.
Link chief executive John Howells said: “These are difficult and challenging times, but I would like to reassure everyone that Link remains as committed as ever to ensuring people can continue to access their cash.
“I and the whole Link board would also like to thank our members and the many, many people who are working hard behind the scenes to keep the ATM network going.”
Meanwhile, consumer group Which? expressed concerns that vulnerable people may be left unable to pay for the basics they need if some businesses decide to ask for card-only payments.
From April 1, the contactless card transaction limit will be raised from £30 to £45.
This will mean fewer people needing to enter their pin when making card transactions – and will also give shoppers more opportunities to “tap and go” when in the past they may have used cash.
Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: “It’s understandable that some shops may ask customers for card-only payments to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus, but we are concerned this will leave many vulnerable people unable to pay for the basics they need.
“Both the Government and retailers need to find a way to ensure that the millions of people who rely on cash, and may not have a bank card, can still pay for essentials during this difficult time.”
Peter McNamara, chief executive of ATM provider NoteMachine, said: “People are shopping for elderly and vulnerable neighbours, friends and families, and a lot of these shopping trips will need to be made with cash.
“Even before Covid-19, many of society’s most vulnerable already had a heavy reliance on cash.
“Removing this payment method at such a critical time would be a devastating blow to many people.”