Matt Hancock has said the government will consider issuing immunity certificates to those who have recovered from coronavirus.
The health secretary made the comment on Thursday, and added that such certificates could eventually help people “get back, as much as possible, to normal life,” but warned that further research was still necessary.
Speaking at the daily press conference from Downing Street, he said: “We are looking at an immunity certificate – how people who have had the disease, have got the antibodies and therefore have the immunity can show that – and so get back, as much as possible, to normal life.
“That is an important thing we will be doing and are looking at.”
It comes after a similar idea came under consideration in Germany this week in order to find a way to get people back to work as soon as possible.
But how do you know if you’re immune, and are there any pitfalls?
How will I know if I am immune?
The government is currently working with nine companies to create the most effective – and simple – blood tests that could determine whether a person has developed antibodies to COVID-19.
The presence of COVID-19 antibodies would signal the person has developed a level of immunity to the disease.
What will the test look like?
According to Mr Hancock, the antibody tests could eventually be carried out by taking a blood sample from a finger prick, which could deliver results in around 20 minutes.
When can I find out if I have immunity?
The tests, if found to be effective, would likely need to be carried out once the body has reached its peak level of immunity – which is 28 days after an infection.
Professor John Newton, the director of health improvement at Public Health England, said this would be the time to carry out the test “if you want to tell somebody that they haven’t been infected and that they’re not immune”.
If I have the antibodies, am I immune forever?
This is one of the big concerns from the government. Due to the virus being so new, no one knows the level of the immunity held, nor how long it could last.
“We know from other viruses that immunity is long lasting,” said Stephen Powis, the national medical director for NHS England, adding: “But some might last a year or so.”
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This means it is also “too early in the science” to “put clarity” to the idea of issuing immunity certificates, Mr Hancock also said.
If an ideal testing time is 28 days after infection, would this delay the lifting of lockdown measures?
Mr Hancock discouraged making a link between the mention of 28 days and the UK’s current lockdown, and turned instead to reinforcing the importance of social distancing.
He said: “The number one thing that stops the spread of this virus is social distancing. That is the most important thing.”