"No evidence that COVID-19 patients cannot be reinfected" says WHO

Published Apr 26, 2020


DURBAN - Despite some experts theorising that people who recover from the coronavirus could develop immunity to the virus, at least in the short term, the World Health Organization (WHO) says there’s currently no evidence that people who had the coronavirus can't contract the virus again.

The agency warned governments against issuing “immunity passports” or “risk-free certificates” to people who have been infected as their accuracy could not be guaranteed, during a scientific brief held on Saturday.

“Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate’ that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection,” the agency said.

“There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” it said.

The warning comes as some US states plan to lift stay-at-home orders and reopen some businesses, with protest against social distancing taking place in states including Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada.

Chile said last week it would begin handing out “health passports” to people deemed to have recovered from the illness. Once screened to determine if they have developed antibodies to make them immune to the virus, they could immediately rejoin the workforce.

The WHO noted that studies show people who have recovered from the coronavirus appear to have antibodies to the virus, which is a sign of past infection. But some people also show low levels of neutralizing antibodies in their blood, the WHO said, suggesting that cellular immunity – T-cells that recognize and eliminate other cells infected with the virus – is necessary for recovery along with antibodies.

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