India considers shutting bank branches nationwide to slow coronavirus spread

India’s central bank and major lenders are planning to close most branches across the country to prevent tens of thousands of employees from being infected with the coronavirus, four sources close to the plan told Reuters.

India is still a treasury company and banks have been exempted from a 21 day blockage which started this week as they are considered an essential service.

According to the plan, in major cities there is likely to be only one bank open every five kilometers, the sources said, refusing to be identified as it has not yet been made public.

In the countryside, where 70% of people live and often rely only on cash, the banks will likely operate every other day and redeploy staff to allow social assistance money only to the poor, said one of the sources.

“The general guideline is that branches should be mainly reserved for villages to deal with people who are not familiar with digital transactions,” a state bank chief banker told Reuters.

“Informally, banks are talking to each other to deal with a situation where there will be some haste for cash withdrawals, as it is expected that the government will provide cash to the poor directly in their accounts.”