Home Tech Safaricom pushes for M-PESA use to help reduce the spread of COVID-19

Safaricom pushes for M-PESA use to help reduce the spread of COVID-19

by Fredrick Gitaka
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COVID-19 is a real threat to the human race and global economies as the pandemic continues to claim lives, livelihoods, and businesses every day, causing a frenzy and a global lockdown.

In a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Kenya and reduce infections, an initiative dubbed #Flattenthecurve, Safaricom is pushing for cashless payments via its mobile money platform M-PESA to allow Kenyans avoid the use of paper money.

With the ability to pay both offline and online retailers, Safaricom has zero-rated all person-to-person M-PESA transactions below Ksh1,000 allowing users to send any amount below Ksh1,000 for free over the next 90 (ninety) days. Safaricom says Ksh 1000 transfers represent 75% of all M-PESA transactions.

Working with CBK, Safaricom has also increased the daily M-PESA transaction limits from the current Ksh70,000 to Ksh150,000 allowing users to transact up to Ksh300,000 up from the current limit of Ksh140,000, and hold up to Ksh300,000 in their M-PESA wallets. Anyone with three M-PESA accounts can transact up to Ksh 900,000 in a day.

Last week, Safaricom announced it would powering payments in Matatus, Kenya’s public service vehicles in a bid to limit the spread of the Coronavirus from paper money. However, this is not the first time Safaricom is trying to do this. Matatu payments have proved to be the hardest to digitize in the country especially due to need for micropayments to cartels manning various bus stages in the city.

Safaricom has also partnered with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) for monthly installments through M-PESA. The two firms seek to combat the spread of Coronavirus by providing the Scheme’s members with a cashless payment solution which helps them limit their movement and physical contact when making payments.

Due to the curfew and the governments request to have employees working from home, the move saves customers the trouble of traveling and queuing in a bank to make their NSSF payments by simply dialing *303*3#.

The partnership will primarily target NSSF Tenant Purchase Scheme members in Nairobi’s Nyayo estate Embakasi, Hazina, Kitusuru, Mountain View and Eldoret’s Kapsoya estate.

Besides payments, the new service also provides the Scheme members with the capability to reconcile and generate reports of their payments and standing.

The NSSF Tenant Purchase Scheme enables one to purchase a home over a period by making monthly installment payments to offset the cost. Besides installment payments, the Tenant Purchase Scheme equally serves NSSF Tenants and provides an avenue to make service charge payments too.

Starting March 2019, NSSF began the rollout of an entirely cashless system across its entire branch, providing for member benefit contribution through the Paybill 333300 or by dialing *303*1#.

In February 2020, NSSF extended its Haba Haba innovation to digital taxi operators, providing a one-stop-shop where digital taxi operators can make their member contributions, make NHIF contributions, get insurance and receive a daily, discounted data bundle. The solution is also available on *303*2#.

Going cashless is not just a Kenyan thing.

China’s central bank announced plans to destroy banknotes collected by hospitals, markets, and buses and issue freshly printed paper currency in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19. The government has also put some of the cash under quarantine for 14 days and disinfect it at high temperatures and with ultraviolet light before returning it to the public.

However, truth is there is no evidence that physical money, clothes or surfaces can help the virus spread.

According to the World Health Organization speaking to the Daily Telegraph : “it’s a good idea to use contactless payments” but that is not coronavirus-specific guidance, and that it has not issued any official warnings about cash.

Is this to say cash is great? No, because coronavirus varieties, can live on inanimate surfaces (pdf) including metal, paper, and plastic for hours to days. And they can survive on cardboard for a day, and on steel and plastic for up to three days. And laboratory-based simulations have shown (pdf) that other kinds of viruses can not only live on banknotes and coins for days and can also maintain their infectiousness. However, it is not enough for the germ to survive on an inanimate surface.

 Joseph Eisenberg, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan added that for virus particles on a dollar bill to infect a human, they must follow the “primary route of infection.” That is if they are inhaled or coughed or sneezed into the air, or by contacting a virus particle with their hand and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. Eisenberg adds that they are not sure if this virus can be transmitted to humans from inanimate surfaces of any kind. 

“It may be possible that a person can get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” The US Centers for Disease Control said.

But like millions are asking for lockdowns, there are also cries that paper money should be banned for the time being when there is no tangible evidence that money in any form has ever been a source of any kind of infection as people are likely to catch the virus in a crowded theater, restaurant, supermarket than paper cash as the spread has happened more via personal contact, not by touching paper money.

The use of cashless forms of payment like M-PESA is great, but several governments will not be destroying banknotes and though users are asked to minimize the use of paper money, cash is still a legal tender.

The advantage of using M-PESA is that it offers customers a simple, efficient and safe way to settle offline and online purchases in an economy with few credit and debit cards. Cashless payments systems like M-PESA give users endless possibilities for convenient purchase and especially as movement has been limited in some counties across the country. M-PESA makes it easier for customers to pay offline and online without physical touch.

Because of quarantine, isolation, lockdown, and curfews, M-PESA and other digital payments are becoming the lifeline for homes and businesses as many businesses try to reach more people with basic supplies such as groceries, drinks, pharmaceutical drugs among others.

Though M-PESA merchant payments are growing by the day, the firm needs to make the system faster especially the Lipa Na M-Pesa option which can really be a nuisance at POS points, open up its new M-PESA one touch to Fuliza services and reduce SIM Swap fraud which is scaring people from using or storing money on in their M-PESA wallets.

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