Coronavirus global response efforts are guided by emerging evidence and occasionally evidence throws up anomalies that cause widespread confusion and panic. A recent point of contention that has cast doubt over the response effort has been whether you can get reinfected from COVID-19. The exit strategy for easing lockdown measures has been based on the widely accepted premise of “herd immunity”. The idea is that once a large proportion of the population has been infected and subsequently become immune, the threat to vulnerable groups will become negligible because the rate of transmission will have slowed to a trickle.
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Starting up economies and returning to some semblance of normality has been based on this widely accepted premise but a recent development flew in the face of this orthodoxy.
277 patients in South Korea were believed to have fallen ill from COVID-19 for a second time, as had patients in China and Japan.
This raised concerns in the scientific community that the virus could be mutating so quickly that it was evading the immune system’s response.
What is the latest?
Researchers at the South Korean centre for disease control and prevention (CDC) now say it is impossible for the COVID-19 virus to reactivate in human bodies.
South Korea’s CDC has found that the test results for the suspected relapsed patients were false positives, and warned the test it used was not able to distinguish between live traces of the virus and the harmless dead samples which remain after patients have recovered.
A false positive is a result of a scientific test that appears to show something exists or is present, when this is not correct.
Before the latest update from South Korean officials, the possibility of reinfection had led to significant policy revisions.
The World Health Organisation warned governments against using so-called “immunity passports” to allow people to return to work simply because they have antibodies for the virus.
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Immunity passports are a proposed way of allowing countries to begin to lift their coronavirus lockdowns in a targeted manner and resume economic activity.
They would be issued to people who have already overcome a COVID-19 infection and test positive for antibodies to the virus, based on the assumption they are therefore immune.
In an update to its guidance, the WHO warned there was “no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection”.
But it was not expected that the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test used to check the blood for antigens – actual particles of the virus itself – could also have issues.
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Genetic analyses of the virus have also not found any substantial changes which would effectively disguise it from the immune system.
UK testing – latest
Yesterday it was announced that the UK issued 76,496 tests in 24 hours, falling short of the 100,000 daily target.
Speaking in the daily press conference yesterday, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said 76,496 daily tests had been undertaken in the 24 hours up to 9am on May 3.
This compares to the 122,347 tests carried out in the 24 hours to 9am on May 1 — the target period for when Matt Hancock, the health secretary, had set a deadline of undertaking 100,000.
How do I know if I have COVID-19?
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of COVID-19 are:
A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
What should I do if I spot these symptoms?
To protect others, you must stay at home if you or someone you live with has symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), advises the health site.
This social distancing measure is called self-isolation.
It is aimed at reducing the rate of transmission from person to person.
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