(Updates with more details)
By Huw Jones and Maya Nikolaeva
LONDON/PARIS, March 25 (Reuters) - The European Union's banking watchdog told payment firms on Wednesday to make it easier for customers to make contactless payments, to help reduce the risk of catching coronavirus.
Following advice from the World Health Organization, the European Banking Authority (EBA) said payment services firms could help to limit the spread of the virus by making it easier to make payments without physical contact, such as using cash.
Contactless payments involve holding a debit or credit card above a payment terminal, or using mobile phone apps such as Google Pay or Apple Pay.
The EBA said it was encouraging payment firms to increase, where possible, contactless payment limits to 50 euros ($54) per transaction, as allowed under EU rules.
In France, which is under a lockdown due to the coronavirus, Parisian bakeries are already urging customers to use contactless payments.
To protect bus drivers, authorities in the Paris region have also introduced an option to pay for tickets via a text message.
The EBA said it would allow payment firms to be exempt from so-called strong customer authentication, meaning more than one check on a customer's identity to avoid fraud, up to the 50-euro ceiling.
"EBA encourages consumers and merchants to take necessary sanitary precautions when providing, or making use of, point-of-sales terminals to pay for goods in-store that require a PIN, including by considering all payment methods available, such as contactless or remote payments," the watchdog said.
Payments company Worldline told Reuters it was hearing from some merchants that cash was no longer accepted and that contactless payments were encouraged or required.
In the first few days of the lockdown in France, online bank N26 saw a relative increase in the transaction mix towards card payments versus a drop in cash machine withdrawals, Jeremie Rosselli, its general manager for France, told Reuters. ($1 = 0.9239 euros) (Reporting by Huw Jones in London and Maya Nikolaeva in Paris; additional reporting by Geert de Clercq; editing by Larry King and Mark Potter)