Debate swirls on use of virus ‘immunity passports’

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by Rob Lever

Governments and organizations around the world are mulling the use of hotly-debated “immunity passports” aimed at easing pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions on movements.

The certificates could identify people with antibodies that reduce the risk of they will spread the deadly coronavirus, helping them to resume activities and return to work.

But global health authorities and experts are urging caution, pointing to concerns over the accuracy of antibody tests as well as privacy fears and the potential for abuse.

Backers of the idea say the people who qualify could receive digital certificates displayed like smartphone boarding passes, or on paper.

“If this situation lasts six months or nine months, or if there is a second wave, you can assume people will want to leave their homes,” said Husayn Kassai, chief executive of the digital identity startup Onfido.

“There needs to be some mechanism to verify a person’s immunity. The immunity passport, if it works effectively, is more likely to help people comply with staying at home.”

Onfido, which has been in talks with the British government and other authorities, said immunity would be determined by a home testing kit similar to those used for pregnancy tests and validated by health authorities.

These could flash as green for fully immune, amber for partly immune or red for risky. The results could be modified in a database if needed, according to Kassai.

British-based startup Bizagi has a “CoronaPass” developed for businesses to screen employees, but CEO Gustavo Gomez says “it could help a lot more people” return to activity.

French tech startup Socios is developing an immunity pass for sporting events so that “only fans who are at low or zero health risk are initially able to attend matches,” according to its website.

Chile this month began issuing certificates to people who have recovered from COVID-19; talks on similar efforts are ongoing in Germany and elsewhere. (AFP)

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