Coronavirus: Seafarers stuck at sea a humanitarian crisis

The fate of more than 200,000 seafarers who play a crucial role in keeping global trade flowing is being labelled a “humanitarian crisis at sea”.

More than 300 firms and organisations are urging for them to be treated as “key workers”, so they can return home without risking public health.

More than 90% of global trade – from household goods to medical supplies – is moved by sea.

But governments have banned crew from coming ashore amid Covid-19 fears.

Large firms including shipping titan AP Moller-Maersk, oil firms BP and Shell, consumer giant Unilever and mining groups Rio Tinto and Vale, as well as maritime transporters, unions, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and other supply chain partners have signed the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change.

They are calling for all countries to designate seafarers as key workers and implement crew change protocols.

The signees of the Neptune Declaration are warning global leaders that ignoring the risk to crews’ mental and physical wellbeing threatens global supply chains, which are crucial to vaccinating the world from coronavirus.

The firms and organisations hope that world leaders, gathering at this year’s virtual Davos Forum, will heed their call.

“Unified, prompt action from governments and other key stakeholders is needed to protect the lives and livelihoods of the 1.6 million seafaring men and women who serve us all across the seas, and who continue to face extreme risk to their safety and earnings,” said WEF’s head of supply chain and transport Margi Van Gogh.

“By granting stranded seafarers key worker status, and by prioritising vaccine allocation for transport crew, we can prevent a deepening humanitarian and economic crisis.”

According to latest data from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and international ship owners body Bimco, there are 1.6 million seafarers serving on internationally trading merchant ships worldwide.

Typically, ICS estimates around 100,000 seafarers are rotated every month, with 50,000 staff disembarking and 50,000 crew embarking ships to comply with international maritime regulations, governing safe working hours and crew welfare.

Seafarers usually work 10-12 hours shifts, seven days a week to man ships, on four or six-month-long contracts, followed by a period of leave.

But due to the coronavirus crisis and travel bans brought in by many governments to combat new variants of Covid-19, hundreds of thousands of crew are spending extended periods at sea, far beyond the expiry of their contracts.

For those who have been at sea for months longer than their contract stipulates, there is a growing risk to their mental and physical wellbeing.

“Seafarers are the unacceptable collateral damage on the war on Covid-19 and this must stop,” said ICS secretary general Guy Platten.

“If we want to maintain global trade seafarers must not be put to the back of the vaccine queue. You can’t inject a global population without the shipping industry and most importantly our seafarers. We are calling on the supply chain to take action to support seafarers now.”

Covid vaccines: Casino boss resigns after jumping queue

The CEO of a casino company valued at nearly $2bn (£1.6bn) has quit after he and his wife were charged with misleading authorities to get a Covid vaccine.

Rod Baker, of the Great Canadian Gaming Corp, and his wife Ekaterina had travelled to the remote northern Yukon territory for the jabs.

The region, home to many indigenous people, has a faster vaccination rate than in the rest of Canada, data shows.

The couple had posed as motel workers.

They were only found out after asking to be taken to the airport straight after the vaccination last week in the small community of Beaver Creek, on the border with the US state of Alaska.

“I am outraged by this selfish behaviour,” said Yukon’s Community Services Minister John Streicker.

“We had not been imagining that someone would go to this sort of length to mislead or deceive,” he added.

Meanwhile, White River First Nation Chief Angela Demit, leader of the local indigenous nation, wrote on her Facebook page: “We are deeply concerned by the actions of individuals who put our elders and vulnerable people at risk to jump the line for selfish purposes.”

Mr Baker and his wife were also later fined for failing to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in Yukon from the city of Vancouver.

Covid: Quarantine hotel plans set to be announced

The government is expected to announce that some travellers coming to England will have to quarantine in hotels, over concerns about new Covid variants.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make a decision after discussing the proposals with senior ministers later.

The new measures are likely to apply to UK citizens and those with permanent residency rights arriving from high-risk countries such as South Africa.

Most foreign nationals from high-risk countries already face UK travel bans.

The new requirement to isolate in a hotel for 10 days will apply to arrivals from most of Southern Africa and South America, as well as Portugal, because many flights from Brazil come via Lisbon, according to BBC Newsnight’s political editor Nicholas Watt.

He said there had been “no definitive decision yet” on arrivals from other parts of the world and this was “still a live issue”.

Whitehall sources said those quarantining in hotels would have to pay for the costs of their own accommodation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Covid operations committee attended by senior ministers later to discuss the options for new border controls.

However, it will not be possible to implement any new measures immediately, said BBC political correspondent Iain Watson.

Some ministers – including Home Secretary Priti Patel – have been pushing for more widespread use of hotel quarantine, arguing that too targeted an approach may prove ineffective, our correspondent reports.

Hotel quarantine is already in place in countries including New Zealand and Australia.

Under current travel curbs, almost all people must test negative for Covid-19 up to 72 hours before travelling to be allowed into the UK.

Even after this negative test, arrivals still have to quarantine for up to 10 days, although this can be done at home.

In England, this self-isolation period can be cut short with a second negative test after five days.

Quarantine rules are set separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – but have only tended to differ slightly.

On Monday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed officials around the UK had discussed a “four nations” approach to the issue.

She added that hotel quarantine was “under active consideration” by Scottish ministers, and would be discussed at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The Northern Ireland Executive is also expected to discuss travel rules when it meets on Tuesday.

In Australia, travellers are allocated a hotel room on arrival and taken there by bus. Often, entire flights are accommodated in the same hotel.

The New South Wales government pledges to make “every attempt” to find suitable accommodation for travellers and families. But availability of rooms means there are severe limits on the number of people who can arrive into the country on any given day.

The hotel quarantine lasts a minimum of 14 days up to 24 days, providing a person tests negative twice.

The cost of the quarantine is borne by the passenger – at around £1,700 per adult and £2,800 for a family of two adults and two children – and billed after the quarantine in completed.

Fees are waived for those who can prove they are unable to pay, and there are certain exemptions.

But not following the rules is a criminal offence, and in New South Wales carries fines of around £6,000 for individuals, six months in prison, or both with an additional £3,100 fine for each day the offence continues.

Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, which represents the interests of the country’s tourism sector, said he hoped the hotel quarantine rules would cover as few countries as possible,

He told the BBC’s Newsnight that the industry had been “decimated” and the new measures were “the last thing we need”.

“We’ve got to start thinking once these conditions are put in then how are we going to wind our way back from that,” he added.

In a joint statement, the Airport Operators Association and Airlines UK said the country already had “some of the highest levels of restrictions in the world” and that introducing tougher rules would be “catastrophic”.

On Monday, Mr Johnson said ministers were “actively working” on the idea of quarantine hotels.

He said the UK already had “one of the tightest regimes in the world” but the government wanted to “protect this country from reinfection from abroad” and the spread of new variants during the rollout of vaccines.

The policy is among the measures credited with limiting cases of coronavirus in Australia – whose population is around 25 million – to just 28,777 positive cases during the entire pandemic.

This is a smaller number of new cases than are currently recorded in the UK every day – with a daily average of over 33,000 in the past seven days.

Ministers have been facing pressure to toughen up the UK’s borders in recent weeks, with Labour accusing ministers of “dragging their feet on setting vital protections”. The party’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has backed the idea of using hotels to help “prevent the importation of further strains of the virus”.

Have you stayed in a quarantine hotel? Share your experiences.

Harvey Weinstein: Court agrees $17m payout for accusers

A US bankruptcy judge has agreed a $17m (£12.4m) payout to women who accused disgraced film director Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Weinstein, 68, was convicted last year and jailed for 23 years for rape and sexual assault.

The payout for his victims will come from the liquidation of the Weinstein Co, which filed for bankruptcy in 2018.

The judge overruled an objection from some accusers looking to pursue appeals outside of bankruptcy court.

Judge Mary Walrath said without the settlement, the plaintiffs would get “minimal, if any, recovery.”

The Weinstein Co was set up as an independent film studio with the disgraced Hollywood mogul one of its co-founders.

The company collapsed in late 2017, following widespread claims of sexual misconduct against Weinstein, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a former production assistant and raping an actress.

The US judge said that 83% of sexual misconduct claimants in the bankruptcy “have expressed very loudly that they want closure through acceptance of this plan, that they do not seek to have to go through any further litigation in order to receive some recovery, some possible recompense… although it’s clear that money will never give them that”.

The $17m fund will be divided among more than 50 claimants, with the most serious allegations resulting in payouts of $500,000 or more.

The settlement was put to a vote of Weinstein’s accusers, with 39 voting in favour and eight opposed.

They will have the option to forgo most of their payout under the plan if they want to continue pursuing their claims.

Insurers contributed $35m under the liquidation plan, which also provides $9.7m to the former officers and directors of the Weinstein Co, allowing them to pay a portion of their legal bills over the last several years.

The directors and officers, who include Weinstein’s brother, Bob, also received releases that absolve them of any potential liability for enabling Weinstein’s conduct.

The Weinstein Co sold its assets to Lantern Entertainment, which later became Spyglass Media Group, for $289m.

Covid: Cancel developing countries debt, MPs urge

The UK government should cancel the debt owed by developing countries struggling with the impact of Covid-19, MPs have said.

The International Development Committee warned that the pandemic was fuelling extreme poverty and food insecurity.

It was also disrupting routine healthcare, such as tuberculosis immunisations, it added.

The Foreign Office said it was spending £1.3bn to protect livelihoods, improve health systems and distribute vaccines.

More than two million people around the world have died after contracting coronavirus, with almost 100 million cases reported.

The committee said that, due to disruption caused by the pandemic, millions of people in developing countries were more at risk from diseases such as tuberculosis because of missed immunisations.

Millions were more likely to lose their livelihoods because of the global recession and millions of women were more exposed to sexual violence.

The MPs want the government to provide more aid to address the problems and cancel long-term national debt that was diverting cash away from those in need.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We’ll only be safe from coronavirus when we’re all safe – which is why the UK is leading global efforts to fight this pandemic, committing up to £1.3bn of new UK aid to find and equitably distribute a vaccine, strengthen health systems, protect livelihoods and support the global economy.”

They added that the UK would use its 2021 presidency of the G7 group of leading economies “to help the world build back stronger and fairer after the pandemic”.

This would include “promoting open societies, championing gender equality and girls’ education, and setting out new international approaches to global health security and climate action”, the spokesperson said.

Randy Rainbow made his name satirising Trump – now what?

Those with cause to lament Donald Trump’s departure from the White House may include America’s satirists – the people he gave comic material to almost daily. In those four years the videos of Randy Rainbow delighted countless followers with satire chiefly using the improbable medium of Broadway show tunes. But the curtain’s not down yet.

Randy Rainbow – it’s his real name – grew up outside New York City and at 10 moved with his family to south Florida. Returning to New York at 22 he was intent on a performing career.

“But I knew I was a pretty young 22,” he recalls. “I’d been on stage as a kid and I thought I just had to grow into myself as a person before I began a career for real. To fill in I did jobs such as working in restaurants and behind the desk at production offices.”

To fend off boredom he started writing a blog which picked up on trends in popular culture and especially in musical comedy. “That led me to YouTube and once I had some eyeballs on me I got a job providing content for the BroadwayWorld website,” he says.

For a time he was doing two separate things online. “There was my non-musical stuff which, so to speak, Forrest Gumped me into the hot topics in mainstream media. The first video which really went viral was in 2010: I was on the phone in my apartment pretending to date a ranting Mel Gibson.

“Whereas BroadwayWorld wanted material based on what was going on in theatre. So I started writing and performing parodies of show tunes and over the years it all just merged into one.

“Eventually I was doing parody songs on YouTube about whatever was happening in the US. And of course from 2017 that mainly meant satirising Trump – though initially I had no idea how much work it would all mean.”

His recent video Sedition has already had more than two million hits. It’s based on Tradition, the opening number of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Warning: Some of the language in this video may be considered offensive.

Among other hits have been Kamala!, based on Camelot, and a version of the West Side Story song Gee Officer Krupke reworked as a love letter to Dr Anthony Fauci.

Rainbow has a fascination for even obscure Broadway and Hollywood songs: The Bunker Boy is a clever rewriting of The Jitterbug, an Arlen & Harburg number dropped from The Wizard of Oz.

Usually Rainbow has been posting a couple of videos each month. For a one-man band working from the spare bedroom of his New York apartment they’re made to an impressive standard. Growing financial success has meant he’s been able to move from the outer borough of Queens to Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Yet he insists his technical skills remain under-developed. “Basically I’m a ham and my roots are totally in performance. In anything else I’m winging it: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

“I’ve taught myself just enough of Final Cut and Adobe After Effects to put all this together. My overhead is small – the expense is mainly for certain videos when I need to buy costumes or maybe props. But it varies – you can get a cheap wig these days for $4.95.”

Rainbow films his own contributions on green screen and the music he uses comes from karaoke download sites. Copyright problems are none as US law protects the concept of musical parody.

Luminaries of the theatre who have let Rainbow know how much they approve of his lyrical and musical meddling include Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Rainbow says he needs to produce each video inside 72 hours at most and if possible within 48 hours. “It’s because the news cycle has now become so crazy in America that there’s always a danger you could start something that will feel out of date before anyone sees it.”

Fairly obviously Rainbow is no Trump fan. But he says his own followers are not exclusively of the Democrat-supporting liberal elite the former president was critical of.

“He has devoted supporters and admirers who nonetheless aren’t blind to his foibles. I was told by whistle-blowers there were White House people who enjoyed my work. Maybe they were talking about Melania.

“I think at one point her husband did have a sense of humour but I very much doubt now he would take an interest. And he never blocked me on Twitter which I’m very upset about.”

Isn’t Rainbow worried he’s about to have very little left to satirise?

“It’s true I don’t anticipate Joe Biden being the same endless source of comedy material. The kind of satire I do is always better when there’s a great central subject – just like storytelling is enriched by a really juicy villain. But the joke had expired on Trump.”

Rainbow’s final video of the Trump era may have been his least amusing. Perhaps that was the point.

Seasons of Trump, posted in the dying hours of the presidency, is based on Seasons Of Love from the musical Rent. It’s without comic one-liners and the basic tone is of anger and regret.

“The truth is it had been getting trickier for me to make the jokes,” he says. “There was a time when the job was a lot more fun. I’m ready to be done with it all because it’s become so dark, what’s going on in the world.”

Rainbow has recorded an album of Christmas classics and he’s currently writing his first book. But he doesn’t anticipate an immediate end to life as an online satirist.

“Topical humour, by its nature, is an endless well of material. In these times of social media people are always up in arms and debating something. You’re looking for the thing everyone is talking about and really I’ve just been following the bouncing ball.”

Rainbow says his job isn’t necessarily to spoof whoever’s in, or has been in, the Oval Office – although he may still do Trump videos if he’s making the news. He points out that in 2020 his output wasn’t all Trump anyway – the subject was often Covid-19.

“It just so happens that for four years almost all the heat in comedy came from one source. But that’s not how humour is meant to be. Or how America is meant to be.”

Poor whites in left behind towns miss out on uni

Poor white youngsters in England’s former industrial towns and those living on the coast are among the most likely to miss out on university, warns the watchdog for fair access.

“These are the people and places that have been left behind,” says Chris Millward of the Office for Students.

The watchdog has used a new measure to see which groups are likely or not to go to university.

MPs are investigating low attainment among white working class pupils.

The Office for Students has looked at overlapping factors – such as poverty, race, gender and where people live – which are indicators of whether someone is likely to go to university.

This combined measure found white youngsters on free meals or from disadvantaged areas were 92% of those in the bottom fifth, in terms of the likelihood of going to to university.

These were particularly concentrated in some areas – such as parts of Nottingham, Great Yarmouth, Barnsley, Sheffield, Stoke and Hull.

Mr Millward, director of fair access, warns that these communities, “over successive generations”, have missed out on the rise in access to universities.

“The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives,” writes Mr Millward.

The research emphasises the importance of place, identifying particularly low entry rates in “former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.

But white students on free meals in London seemed to have bucked the trend, with an the entry rate that “has pulled away from that in other parts of the country” – and the capital overall has higher rates of going to university.

Figures from the Department for Education last year reported that “male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education”.

The Education Select Committee is investigating why “left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds” seem to be underachieving in education.

Co-op and Morrisons see queues over payments outage

The Co-op and Morrisons have confirmed that there is an ongoing issue affecting card payments from being processed in some of their stores.

Long queues were seen outside some of the Co-op’s convenience stores from Sunday amid the snow, and customers were encouraged to pay using cash.

The BBC understands that the problem is due to an issue with a real-time payments processing provider ACI.

Multiple customers took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about the queues.

The issue comes as contactless payments have taken off in the UK during the pandemic, with fewer consumers using cash to pay for groceries.

The BBC has approached ACI for comment.

“We’ve experienced some technical difficulties with our card payments and are working hard to resolve this as quickly as possible,” said a Morrisons spokeswoman. “We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

A Co-op spokesman told the BBC: “Our payment processing provider is working to correct an intermittent issue which has prevented a very small number of customer transactions from being processed.

“We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The BBC witnessed the card processing issue affecting some of The Co-op’s stores meant that self-service checkouts had to be closed, requiring customers to queue to be served at tills manned by staff.

At some stores, customers queuing outside were warned on Monday evening that transactions had to be “cash-only” due to the ongoing issue.

Some customers said they had to use the convenience store’s cash machine to withdraw money to pay for purchases.

However in other stores, the problem was intermittent, impacting some payment card brands, but not others.

Knackered and confused. Thats just the parents

Home schooling can be tough. It’s difficult to concentrate, there’s emotional exhaustion, boredom, a lack of motivation and it’s really hard not going out to see friends. And that’s just the parents.

This winter lockdown is taking its toll on families, now struggling even more on the black ice of uncertainty as no-one can say when schools in England are going to reopen for most pupils again.

“There’s a sense of fatigue,” says Jacqueline Smallwood, who is at home with three secondary-school children. She says her own “concentration levels have fallen dramatically”.

“It’s so repetitive that it just makes you feel tired,” she says of the latest lockdown and the “silent struggle” facing both parents and their children to try to get motivated.

There might have been some guilty enjoyment at the start of the year when the school term was initially delayed, not having to get up and out on cold January mornings.

Until it dawned on them that this was becoming something much longer than a few weeks.

It’s morphed from early January to half term in mid-February and now maybe Easter in early April or even later. And Jacqueline says, as a matter of “respect”, parents need to know what’s happening about schools.

The confusion over a return date seems to have further frayed the nerves of parents.

The mother, who lives outside Canterbury in Kent, says she worries about the pressures building up on young people.

For teenagers like her sons, she says this “should be a pivotal time in their lives,” when they’re beginning to get some independence and when social lives are hugely important – but instead they’re stuck inside with their parents.

“We can’t live like the Waltons forever,” she says, referencing the US TV series of a folksy family relying on each other.

The first lockdown created an unexpected sense of togetherness, an “enforced bonding” that she says turned out to be a “massive positive”.

But Jacqueline, who works as a writer, sees no such upside to the latest lockdown. There is a collective frustration – and she says it has been made even worse by the confusion about when schools will go back.

The online home-schooling seems to be working, she says, with teachers trying to boost the enthusiasm levels, but it’s no real substitute for being in school. And she wants much more clarity about when they will go back.

“I’ve tried not to be political about decisions being made, but you can’t help but feel disappointed. They don’t seem to understand how real people are living,” she says.

She says when politicians say maybe schools will or won’t be back by Easter, they don’t realise how much that uncertainty affects families trying to plan for what comes next.

Educational psychologist Dan O’Hare says the “key word is ‘uncertainty'”.

Not knowing what is coming next adds to the pressure, he says, and children out of school are already facing big unknowns such as what’s going to happen about exams or when will they see their friends and teachers.

“It’s really stressful for children and their families,” says Dr O’Hare, who is co-chair of the British Psychological Society’s division for educational and child psychology. “They need a sense of a plan.”

This lockdown is also in the depths of winter – and he says employers need to think about making sure staff working from home are able to take a break in daylight hours, so that families can get outside.

It’s no use asking parents to answer work emails all day and expect them to go out when it’s dark.

For some families it has got very difficult.

“It’s affected her emotionally a lot,” says Dave in Bolton, who is worrying about his six-year-old daughter, who has been crying because she misses her friends.

“It’s awful, you can’t put a positive spin on it. She’s at that age where she’s enjoying her friends, becoming more socialised,” he told BBC 5 Live.

“She’s quite a confident little girl and I can’t help worry that being stuck at home is going to impact her in the longer term.”

The father says many of her classmates are still going into school – and that makes it even harder when she sees her friends on school Zoom calls.

Jen Locke in Newcastle makes the point that women can often be “the most adversely affected by the decision to keep schools closed”.

She says home schooling has “fallen squarely on my shoulders”, helping her children in the day and then shifting her work with an IT company into the evening, so it’s an early start through to a very late finish.

“It’s a huge mental strain… I’m knackered from it all,” she says, right down to trying to get children to bed who aren’t tired because they’re not going out.

A lockdown weariness seems to be out there, despite the best efforts of schools.

Simon Armstrong in Bristol, whose son is in secondary school, says: “Virtual lessons, no matter how well delivered, are a woeful substitute for real lessons.”

“I am at the end of my tether,” he says.

The Department for Education said: “We are committed to reopening schools as soon as the public health picture allows, and will inform schools, parents and pupils of plans ahead of February half term.”

But Labour has accused the government of causing “chaos and confusion” for parents and schools.

The National Association of Head Teachers said: “Now is the moment for calm heads to decide on a sustainable return to school, not another chaotic and last-minute set of decisions that could easily result in a yo-yo return to lockdown.”

Why your face could be set to replace your bank card

Sara Stewart strolls into a small Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles and orders a torta, a type of sandwich.

To pay she simply looks at her reflection in a small LCD screen attached to the cashier’s counter. Then to add her preferred amount of tip she flashes a quick peace sign at the monitor.

The entire process takes less than five seconds, and is entirely contactless. Moreover, Ms Stewart doesn’t need to carry her mobile phone or bank card with her, or show any form of identification, or even enter a pin number.

Welcome to the futuristic world of facial recognition payment. It might sound like something from a science fiction movie, but this kind of transaction is already happening millions of times a day across China’s major cities.

With the technology now being introduced in the US, and other countries such as Denmark and Nigeria, are we all going to be using it within a few years’ time? And, are there data security and privacy issues that we should worry about?

Ms Stewart, an 18-year-old university student, says she has no such concerns. “I feel like technology is moving so fast that people don’t even think twice about using something like this.

“Our phones already read our faces, and our faces are already all over the internet, so I don’t think it really makes much of a difference [to someone’s security]. It’s faster, more convenient, and safer… and you don’t have to worry about leaving your phone or cards at home.”

She uses facial recognition payment, via a US tech start-up called PopID. You sign up via its website, by uploading a photograph of your face, which is stored on the firm’s cloud-based system. You then link your account to your bank card.

In addition, you can choose to use PopID’s hand gesture tipping tool. Ms Stewart has set this at thumbs up for 10%, the peace sign for 15%, and the shaka or “hang loose” sign for 20%.

PopID is based in Los Angeles, and is now used by about 70 independent restaurants and cafes across a handful of US cities, mainly on the West Coast.

The firm’s chief executive John Miller says: “Our view is that using your face to pay is no different [than using your phone].

“It’s just another way to identify yourself. The [digital] picture [taken at point of sale] is destroyed immediately, and the data isn’t shared with anyone.”

In fact, he argues that it’s less intrusive than paying by your mobile phone, because a phone can track your location at all times via GPS. He adds that the photos stored by PopID are mathematical maps of unique facial vectors, not actual photographs.

Currently PopID requires the user to temporarily lower his or her facemask, but the firm says it is updating its systems so that this will not have to be done in the future.

Some 7,000 miles (12,000 km) away, in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, another student has facial payment technology on her mind. Ling (who did not wish to share her real name for fear of getting into trouble) says that it is now the only way to buy food from the vending machine in her accommodation block at Sun Yat-sen University.

Unlike Sara in Los Angeles, Ling is far from happy about the roll out of the technology. Concerned about its ever-increasing encroachment into her daily life, she is refusing to use it. Even if that means she cannot buy a late night snack.

“Tech is like a tide,” she says. “There’s no way you can swim against it. But I also want to make a stand of some kind, for as long as I’m able to do so.”

If technology in general is indeed a tide, then the rollout of facial recognition payment technology in China is something of a tsunami.

Almost all (98%) of mobile payments in China goes through just two apps – Alipay (owned by ecommerce giant Alibaba) and WeChat Pay – and both are racing to install their facial recognition systems across the country.

Alipay is spending three billion yuan ($420m; £300m) over three years, and according to Chinese state media, 760 million people will be using facial recognition payments by next year.

Wang Bing, from the Luoyang Vocational College of Science and Technology, in Henan Province, says the roll out has been fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The experience of Covid was huge in China in terms of bringing people into facial recognition systems,” he says.

He adds that the software and camera systems are so advanced that they are impossible to trick, such as by stealing someone’s photograph. The technology can also differentiate between identical twins.

But will the technology take off in the rest of the world? Brett King, an expert on the future of banking and payment systems, believes it will – unless governments choose to stop it.

New Tech Economy is a series exploring how technological innovation is set to shape the new emerging economic landscape.

The author of a book called Banking 4.0, he says that the exact measurements and features of your face are actually more secure than your account passwords.

“Facial payment is part of the growing digital identity structure…. I appreciate the concerns about privacy, but the reality is that a [face-based] digital identity structure is inevitable for safety and security.

“[Digital] payments, transactions and services are becoming more and more imbedded in our life, and in our world, and that’s definitely going to require biometrics, because passwords are simply not secure enough.”

Mr King adds that many users of Apple phones are already happy to use facial recognition to access their handsets, and that the facial payment systems are just an extension of that.

However, he says US regulators may look at the technology. This comes at a time of increased concern about facial recognition systems in general.

A handful of Democrats in the US Congress want to try to reintroduce a bill this year to prevent the technology being used by federal agencies such as the FBI to identify crime suspects. And there are concerns that facial recognition systems are being used in China to identify people from the Uighur ethnic minority.

PopID’s John Miller says he’s in talks with the main card payment processing companies. They are said to see facial recognition payment as a way of bypassing mobile phone apps such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

“They don’t want to be dependent on the phone, because Apple is one company that can threaten them,” he says. “So the idea of moving the payment system straight from the card to the face is very appealing to them.”

Yet Mr Miller admits that facial recognition payment is an idea that some will never accept. “There’s a segment of the population that’s never going to adopt it, no matter how much logic you go through about how it compares to the phone. Because for them it’s just psychological.”

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