File photo: AFP

While it’s only occasionally that a PR person lucks out and send a presss release that anwers a question many of us had just been wondering about, only a minute ago just such a document dropped into our electronic mailbox.

Let’s start at the beginning.

In deference to the virulence of the coronavirus, you hang around the house in approved self-isolation until you run out some essential item. Preferably masked, you walk or ride to the sparsely populated store, go straight to the correct aisle, unshelve the item and, without having come even close to a single other human being or making finger contact with a suspiciously oft-touched surface, head to the cashier’s desk, your credit card at the ready.

There you may find it hard to avoid contact if the store wants you to sign. You’re likely to be offered a pen that, for all you know, may only moments previously have been chewed upon by the local super-carrier. (Authorities have declined to release a name, but for epidemiological-historical reasons let’s call that person Covid Mary.)

You’ve neglected to bring along your wet wipes AND you’ve violated one of the main rules of news reporters by failing to carry your own pen.

Obviously, this sort of transaction goes against the zeitgeist, not to mention the spirit of the times. So why doesn’t somebody do something to put a stop to it?

Voila. The press release just in tells us there’s at least one credit card outfit (and, we can guess, others as well – but only the first one in gets excerpted below) working on the problem as we speak:

Mastercard advocates sufficiently high contactless payments

limits to ensure faster, simpler transactions across Asia Pacific

Hong Kong, April 14, 2020 – Mastercard’s unwavering commitment to making transactions more convenient, safe and seamless through tap-and-go card payments has taken on new urgency and importance as the spread of Covid-19 highlights the imperative for “contact-free” environments and experiences as much as possible.

As nations implement stricter containment measures to keep their citizens protected, Mastercard has taken a leadership role by actively consulting with governments and industry partners across the Asia Pacific region to ensure consumers have sufficiently high limits for contactless payments.

Having the right transaction limit helps people stock up on more essential items on each trip to public places without having to touch potentially infectious surfaces, key in a PIN, handle cash or use a pen to process their payments. It is also important for merchants and consumers to know that signatures are no longer required for card payments, which further reduces contact points and speeds up purchases.

Consumers simply need to look for the contactless symbol on the front or back of their cards to see if they can tap when they are checking out with their purchases. For mobile devices, any change in limits has no impact on transactions or personal safety as a fingerprint, facial scan or PIN keyed into the device itself is still required and contact points are confined to the cardholder’s device.

“Face-to-face transactions still need to happen, even in times as unusual as now. Making them as fast and contactless as possible is one way to help people to be more socially responsible, support local businesses and protect everyone in the community when they need it the most,” said Sandeep Malhotra, Executive Vice President, Products & Innovation, Asia Pacific, Mastercard….

As of February 2020, contactless payments made up approximately 50 percent of Mastercard’s global card-present purchases, excluding the United States.

Asia Pacific is seeing an overall rapid expansion in contactless payments but adoption varies across the region – from widespread use in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Malaysia to swift uptake in India and steady growth from a low base in China, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam. Transaction limits also vary across the region as each market has the autonomy to set its own limits based on what is right for the domestic environment and for cardholders.

Some markets including Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan already have sufficiently high limits. Australia and New Zealand have raised their limits, effective April 9, and the Philippines will increase its limit on July 17. Still other markets are at a more exploratory stage in their deliberations and Mastercard stands ready to support them as initial discussions build momentum for action….