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Bank of Canada deputy governor Timothy Lane delivers a keynote at the Ottawa Board of Trade in Ottawa on Dec. 5, 2019.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

A Bank of Canada official says pandemic-related shifts in how people shop means central banks must speed up work on creating their own digital currencies.

COVID-19 has meant more people are shopping online, and foot traffic for bricks-and-mortar storefronts hasn’t caught up to prepandemic levels for many small and medium-sized businesses.

Bank of Canada deputy governor Timothy Lane said that shift in spending habits coupled with the speed of technological developments has narrowed the window to deliver a digital currency issued by the central bank.

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The comments from an online panel on Wednesday are a turnaround from late February, just before the pandemic struck, when Mr. Lane said there wasn’t a compelling case to issue a central bank-backed digital currency.

The Bank of Canada has started work on its own digital currency should others become widely used in Canada and erode the central bank’s ability to manage monetary policy.

Mr. Lane said Wednesday that the bank would have to hold widespread consultations to understand what Canadians would want in a digital currency before the central bank could issue one.

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