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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Lifting Covid-19 lockdowns: What are immunity passports?

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Among the ideas being considered is an “immunity certificate” or “immunity passport”, whose holders would be able to get back to work.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Published: April 19, 2020 10:40:50 pm
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Coronavirus (COVID-19): As countries around the world are struggling to lift lockdowns due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, policymakers are deliberating how to deal with future outbreaks as and when they emerge.

Among the ideas being considered is an “immunity certificate” or “immunity passport”, whose holders would be able to get back to work.

What is an immunity passport or certificate?

Lockdowns around the world have severely impacted the global economy, with many governments facing glaring challenges such as high unemployment and fall in production.

Under increasing pressure to reopen their economies, parts of Europe and the US have been considering issuing immunity certificates to people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have its antibodies– thus presumed to be immune to the disease.

People who are issued these certificates would be allowed to go back to work and move about freely.

In Germany, researchers have suggested testing 1 lakh people, and issuing certificates to those who have antibodies for the novel coronavirus.

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In the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had contracted COVID-19 himself, has suggested that such a certificate could be in the form of a wristband.

The idea has also become popular in Italy, where the lockdown exit strategy includes compulsory antibody tests as the country seeks to set up the certificate system. In some areas of the country’s most-affected northern region, the plan has already been implemented.

In the US too, the concept is being discussed, top Trump-aide Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN.

Would such a certificate be reliable?

Many have criticised the scheme as both scientifically and ethically controversial.

Experts have cautioned governments against acting in haste, since much still remains to be understood about the spread of the virus, as well as immunity to it.

Lack of necessary information would make categorising between immune and non-immune persons a challenging as well as potentially dangerous task, they insist.

There are also logistical problems, as not enough test kits are still available around the world to be able to issue such certificates on a large scale. Also, many researchers continue to remain sceptical about entirely relying on antibody tests to issue certificates.

At the same time, experts have said that issuing such certificates would create resentment among members of the community, and raise the possibility of stigmatisation.

As younger populations are known to be more resilient to the virus, they would be more favoured to get immunity certificates, as opposed to older people, leading to divisions.

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