Cash transfer during the COVID-19 pandemic: a multicentre, randomised controlled trial

Fam Med Community Health. 2021 Dec;9(4):e001452. doi: 10.1136/fmch-2021-001452.


Objective: To evaluate the effect of a one-time cash transfer of $C1000 in people who are unable to physically distance due to insufficient income.

Design: Open-label, multi-centre, randomised superiority trial.

Setting: Seven primary care sites in Ontario, Canada; six urban sites associated with St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and one in Manitoulin Island.

Participants: 392 individuals who reported trouble affording basic necessities due to disruptions related to COVID-19.

Intervention: After random allocation, participants either received the cash transfer of $C1000 (n=196) or physical distancing guidelines alone (n=196).

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was the maximum number of symptoms consistent with COVID-19 over 14 days. Secondary outcomes were meeting clinical criteria for COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 presence, number of close contacts, general health and ability to afford basic necessities.

Results: The primary outcome of number of symptoms reported by participants did not differ between groups after 2 weeks (cash transfer, mean 1.6 vs 1.9, ratio of means 0.83; 95% CI 0.56 to 1.24). There were no statistically significant effects on secondary outcomes of the meeting COVID-19 clinical criteria (7.9% vs 12.8%; risk difference -0.05; 95% CI -0.11 to 0.01), SARS-CoV-2 presence (0.5% vs 0.6%; risk difference 0.00 95% CI -0.02 to 0.02), mean number of close contacts (3.5 vs 3.7; rate ratio 1.10; 95% CI 0.83 to 1.46), general health very good or excellent (60% vs 63%; risk difference -0.03 95% CI -0.14 to 0.08) and ability to make ends meet (52% vs 51%; risk difference 0.01 95% CI -0.10 to 0.12).

Conclusions: A single cash transfer did not reduce the COVID-19 symptoms or improve the ability to afford necessities. Further studies are needed to determine whether some groups may benefit from financial supports and to determine if a higher level of support is beneficial.

Trial registration number: NCT04359264.

Keywords: COVID-19; health equity; preventive medicine.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Financial Statements
  • Humans
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • SARS-CoV-2

Associated data