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News Article

Immunity Passports: Unsafe and Segregating but Worth the Risk?

By Andrea Villar | Tue, 05/12/2020 - 12:31

Industries most affected by COVID-19 are devising ways to revive their operations. While some have proposed tourist corridors or COVID-19-free zones, another idea has come up: immunity passports. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has already warned about the risks of issuing this kind of IDs.

In late April, the Chilean Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said that in early May the ‘COVID-19 carnet’ would be implemented in the country. However, the government postponed its delivery because it considered that it could "generate discrimination" against those who have the document. Mañalich said that people with the card could "enjoy privileges" in the face of a labor contraction or to enter public places.

In Belgium, which has one of the highest per-capita death rates, a government adviser told the BBC that he strongly opposed the idea of immunity passports. "I hate the fact that we would give people passports depending on their HIV status," said virologist Marc Van Ranst, a member of the Belgian government. "That will lead to counterfeiting, to people who will voluntarily become infected with the virus. This is not a good idea. It is an extremely bad idea."

China's government released something similar to an immunity passport. Since February 11, citizens have a QR code that changes color depending on their health and people need to show it to get into restaurants and shopping malls. Currently, the code is used in more than 200 cities across the country.

To obtain a QR code in China, citizens must fill in their personal information on a registration page. They report their travel history and whether they have had contact with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients in the past 14 days. People with a red code must go into government quarantine or self-quarantine for 14 days. People with an amber code will be quarantined for seven days, while users with a green code can freely move around the city, said the Hangzhou government in a statement.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, very touristic areas, want the government to certify them as virus-free areas by extending certificates. Currently, Mexico City’s restaurants, hotels and bars are seeking those same certificates to generate trust among customers and open as soon as possible to get business to start again.

Not So Fast

In response to this initiative, WHO said that "there is no evidence" that people who have developed antibodies after recovering from COVID-19 are protected against a second infection. In addition, it warned that people who assume they are immune may stop taking precautions and therefore "may increase the risk of transmission," the organization said in a statement.

As of April 24, no study had evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to the SARS-Cov-2 virus gave immunity after contagion in humans, WHO explained. "At this point in the pandemic, there is insufficient evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-determined immunity to ensure the accuracy of an 'immunity passport,'" the agency said. While antibodies will be determined to exist to prevent reinfection, WHO said laboratory tests to detect antibodies need additional validation to determine their accuracy.

Globally, more than 277,000 have died from COVID-19, while confirmed infections surpassed 4 million. More than 1.3 million people have recovered.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
BBC, WHO
Photo by:   Unsplash
Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst