WHO warns over virus immunity as global death toll nears 200,000
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by Gaël Branchereau with AFP bureaus
The World Health Organization warned on Saturday recovering from coronavirus may not protect people from reinfection as the death toll from the pandemic approached 200,000 around the globe.
Governments across the world are struggling to limit the economic devastation unleashed by the virus, which has infected nearly 2.8 million people and left half of humanity under some form of lockdown.
The United Nations has joined world leaders in a push to speed up development of a vaccine, but effective treatments for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, are still far off.
But with signs the disease is peaking in the US and Europe, governments are starting to ease restrictions, weighing the need for economic recovery against cautions that lifting them too soon risks a second wave of infections.
The WHO warned on Saturday that there is still no evidence that people who test positive for the new coronavirus and recover are immunised and protected against reinfection.
The warning came as some governments study measures such as “immunity passports” or documents for those who have recovered as one way to get people back to work after weeks of economic shutdown.
“There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from #COVID19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” WHO said in a statement.
“People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice,” it said.
On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked for international organisations, world leaders and the private sector to join the effort to speed up development and distribution of a vaccine.
Any vaccine should be safe, affordable and available to all, Guterres said at a virtual meeting, which was attended by the leaders of Germany and France.
Absent though were the leaders of China, where the virus first emerged late last year, and the United States, which has accused the WHO of not warning quickly enough about the original outbreak.
The spread of COVID-19 is increasing other medical risks as well with the WHO warning nearly 400,000 more people could die from malaria because of disruption to the supply of mosquito nets and medicines.
Saturday marked World Malaria Day, a disease which the WHO said could kill around 770,000 this year, or “twice as much as in 2018”.