In Brief

What are ‘immunity passports’?

Government considers new scheme to ease coronavirus lockdown - but not everyone is convinced

The UK government is considering introducing so-called “immunity passports” allowing those who have had coronavirus to be free from lockdown restrictions and return to work.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Thursday that he had a “very strong interest” in launching a passport scheme, similar to that recently proposed in Germany.

The German authorities plan to chart the spread of the Covid-19 disease by testing how many people have acquired antibodies against coronavirus, The Times reports. Those shown to have developed immunity are given a certificate which would allow them to return to work.

Having only recently returned to work following his own spell of self-isolation with Covid-19, Hancock confirmed Downing Street is “looking at an immunity certificate” so that those who are deemed immune “can show that and therefore get back as much as possible to normal life”, Business Insider reports.

But, he added, “it is too early in the science… to be able to put clarity around that”.

Hancock’s comments coincide with the government’s new pledge to complete 100,000 tests a day in England by the end of April.

But the immunity passport plan has been criticised by health experts, primarily because of the mixed results of coronavirus testing schemes around the world.

For example, 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”, Business Insider reports, while some tests have demonstrated false positives by detecting antibodies to much more common coronaviruses.

Furthermore, researchers are also wary that a past infection may not prevent reinfection, and that natural immunity may not be permanent.

And The Guardian says some critics fear that a passport scheme could “lead to resentment in the population who have not had the virus, and that people might even deliberately try to get infected in order to obtain an immunity certificate”.

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