Chile Is Testing Out Immunity Cards For People Who Have Been Cured Of The Virus
Chile is asking itself the same question that many of us are asking ourselves: when is “this” going to end, when will we be able to return to the life we knew before the pandemic, or at least how to begin to recover what used to be normal life.
For governments, the priority seems to be jump starting their economies amid a global pandemic. Some states in the U.S. are already reopening non-essential businesses (like gyms and beaches…really?!) while countries like Mexico are allowing most businesses to stay open so long as they practice social distancing measures.
Chile – which was in the throes of a nationwide lockdown – has decided to take a different approach. The government there plans to allow those in low risk groups and those who have already been infected with the virus and have recovered to return to near normal activities. But at what cost?
Chile plans to issue the world’s first Coronavirus immunity cards.
The country’s health officials confirmed plans to be the first country to issue coronavirus “immunity passports,” which would allow individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to go back to work. Health Ministry Undersecretary Paula Daza said that 4,600 people have recovered from the deadly virus. According to officials, those citizens can “help the community enormously” by getting back to work. Chile has tested more people for the coronavirus than any other country in Latin America.
In principle, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have been symptom-free for 14 days or more will be eligible for antibody testing. Chile has a population over more than 19 million people, so the roughly 4,600 people who would receive these ‘immunity cards’ make up a very small segment of the population.
If the strategy works, the ID cards could – little by little – help Chile reopen its economy and get its population back to work. But the strategy isn’t without risks.
From a flourishing black market to several unknowns related to the Coronavirus – the government’s plan has many risks.
If there is an ID card that would enable to you to take to the streets, get back to work, and return to a somewhat normal life – you would want it right? And so will many others – including those who have not yet developed any anti-bodies to the virus and are still at-risk. That’s what has many officials worried about Chile’s ID plan. It could create a black market for fake immunity cards.
Not only does this pose a threat of at-risk populations getting fake immunity cards – but since they’ll likely be available at a cost most Chileans can’t afford, this leaves only the privileged able to get them.
Chile says they will certify immunity, but does it even exist?
The idea that a person who recovers from COVID-19 can be immune to the virus has its foundations in the way the human body reacts to thousands of other viruses that we live with in our daily lives.
Since there is no specific treatment for COVID-19 at this time, the goal is to keep the patient as stable as possible while his or her immune system copes with the virus. To this extent, it is understood that those who manage to recover have developed the necessary antibodies to do so. Some recovered patients are having their antibodies ‘harvested’ to inject into other patients still battling the disease.
However, the World Health Organization has explicitly discouraged the issuance of immunity cards because the presence of antibodies simply indicates that the body has reacted to the virus, not necessarily proof of immunity.
So far, Chile has had a well-planned response to the pandemic and has escaped much of the turmoil of other countries in South America.
Local governments have instituted rolling quarantine orders in different locations based upon number of new cases, access to medical care, and the percentage of elderly residents. They also instituted complete lockdowns, closed the borders to all travel, and instituted overnight curfews to limit people’s movements. The measures seem to be working.
Chile has seen roughly 12,000 confirmed cases of the virus but less than 200 deaths. The country has also initiated widespread testing, which is why the government is so confident in its plan to issue these immunity cards.
“We are doing well, so far, but it’s too soon to declare victory,” said Paula Bedregal, a public health expert and professor at the medical school of Universidad Catolica de Chile. “We aren’t in winter yet, when things can get more complicated, and the virus is starting to appear more among more vulnerable groups.”
Bedregal added that real information is lacking in some of the poorest areas, making it harder to know if the system in place will continue to succeed.