The British government is considering the controversial notion of certifying recovered coronavirus patients with immunity passports so they can leave lockdown, rejoin society, and go back to work.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said during Thursday’s Downing Street briefing: “We are looking at an immunity certificate. People who have had the disease have got the antibodies and then have immunity can show that and therefore get back as much as possible to normal life.”
“That is something we will be doing and will look at, but it is too early in the science… to be able to put clarity around that,” the health secretary added.
Mr Hancock later elaborated on BBC One’s Question Time that people could even wear “immunity bracelets”.
“When the science is good enough to understand the immunity that people have after having had the disease, then we are looking at introducing something like an immunity certificate or maybe a wristband that says ‘I’ve had it and I’m immune and I can’t pass it on and I’m highly unlikely to catch it,’” Mr Hancock said.
Critics have raised several questions over this endeavour, notably, the accuracy of the test results validating the certificates. Work continues on a viable antibody test, which shows if you have had the virus and now have the antibodies. However, the current analysis has established that some tests give a “poor” proportion of correct results, Mr Hancock admitted.
Even if the testing becomes more accurate, the government’s scientific team admitted it takes four weeks before the test will work, and it is still unclear how long immunity for this new Chinese virus will last.
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While Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, says the certificates may be a valid programme for medics, he warned against using them on the general public. He told The Guardian that the demand for papers before resuming normal life could give rise to counterfeit passports, with those still vulnerable to catching and spreading coronavirus being out on the streets, representing a danger to others.
“People going out to deliberately get infected so they could get back to work is a concern and I don’t know how you’d avoid that,” Professor Hunter also said.
Significantly, there is also the danger of using state bureaucracy to separate one portion of society from the other provoking resentment and distress in those who have followed government advice to isolate exactingly, and consequently have not had the virus. As a result, those without an immunity passport may have to remain in lockdown. Certification may also become a requisite for entry to private businesses.
Requiring health papers before entry is certainly an outcome that developers of a British coronavirus app have considered.
NHSX, the technology arm of the National Health Service, is releasing an app which tracks the movements of contacts of those with confirmed coronavirus. While the app is, as yet, not mandatory a member of the development team, Professor Michael Parker, admitted that private businesses like restaurants might demand to see your app profile to prove that you are low risk.
A Downing Street spokesman verified that the government is looking into immunity passports based on other countries’ practices, telling PoliticsHome: “It is something which has been discussed in other countries. We will look at strategies followed elsewhere. If there are things that would be helpful in the UK, we will, of course, consider them.”
Germany is planning to introduce immunity certificates so those that have had the virus can reenter society.
“Those who are immune can then be given a vaccination certificate that would, for example, allow them to be exempt from any (lockdown-related) restrictions on their work,” Gerard Krause, the epidemiologist leading the German scheme, said in comments reported by The Telegraph.
Europe is following in the footsteps of communist China in its state bureaucratic monitoring of its people’s health as well as technology being used to track their movements. China, the originator of the virus, developed what amounts to a cross between the immunity passport and NHSX infection app.
The “health code” services, reports The Guardian, give colour-coded warnings on a phone app according to the person’s health and travel movements: green means free movement, amber means home isolation, and red means quarantine. Some restaurants, shops, and even public transport in the country are denying service to people depending upon their colour-coded health status.
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