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The UK plans to issue coronavirus 'immunity passports' so people can leave the lockdown early

Adam Bienkov , Business Insider US
 Apr 03, 2020, 12:14 PM
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  • The UK plans to roll out "immunity passports" to allow people who have contracted Covid-19 to leave the lockdown early.
  • UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the certificates would be issued to people who have built up immunity to the novel coronavirus so they can return to "normal life".
  • Citizens would need to test positive in an antibody test before being issued with the certificates.
  • However, the UK has yet to identify a reliable test for antibodies to the virus.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage. 

The United Kingdom (UK) plans to roll out "immunity passports" to people who have already contracted Covid-19 to allow them to return to "normal life," the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday.

"We are looking at an immunity certificate," Hancock said at a Downing Street press conference.

"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".

He added: "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 UK has already ordered millions of antibody tests. However, the tests have so far proven ineffective, and the government has yet to approve them for use.

"The early results of some of them have not performed well," Hancock said. "But we hope the later tests we have got are reliable enough for people to be confident in using."

Hancock said hundreds of thousands of tests could take place every day once an antibody test is identified.

However, coronavirus testing has so far had mixed success around the world. Spain was recently forced to return tens of thousands of rapid coronavirus tests from a Chinese company after they were found to provide inconsistent results.

Some tests have demonstrated false positives, detecting antibodies to much more common coronaviruses, Quartz reported.

Scientists also remain unsure about the extent to which a past infection could prevent reinfection and how long an immunity would remain.

Germany is also examining the possibility of issuing immunity passports.

Researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Germany plan to send out hundreds of thousands of antibody tests over the coming weeks that could allow people to break free of their lockdowns, Der Spiegel reported on Friday.

If the project is approved, the researchers will test 100 000 people at a time starting this month, Der Spiegel said.

The tests are designed to detect whether a person has developed antibodies to the Covid-19 virus. The antibodies indicate that the tested person was at one time a carrier and may have built up immunity.

A positive test could allow the person to leave the lockdown while many positive tests could allow governments to ease restrictions in areas with "herd immunity."

Gerard Krause, the epidemiologist leading the project, told the magazine that people who are immune "could be given a type of vaccination card that, for example, allows them to be exempted" from "restrictions on their work".

Germany has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates, which some experts and commentators have said is a result of the extensive testing rolled out by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

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