SANTIAGO – The Ministry of Health will issue a digital document to each person who has recovered from Covid-19. The document will allow its holder to circumvent the quarantine as it is believed that those who have recovered from the virus are immune to it. This decision has been criticized because the underlying hypothesis is untested.
Chile makes history on Apr. 20, when it becomes the first country to issue special Covid-19 immunity cards. The idea is that residents who survived the virus are now immune, meaning that they can go help reactivate the economy.
Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said that they would only give these cards to those that have tested negative to certain antibodies tests, which some experts argue aren’t reliable. As seen recently in South Korea, over two percent of those who recovered tested positive for the virus a second time.
The minister defended his decision, saying, “There is a very high probability that those that had the disease are no longer infecting people.”
What Is The Immunity Card?
The Covid-19 card will be an electronic document that will be sent to those who have recovered from the virus and that can be presented to authorities via mobile phone.
Authorities will use two different tests to issue the cards. The first is the PCR test, which is used to detect specific genetic material, traces of the virus. The main drawback is that it takes longer to obtain the results of the test and its administration requires specially-trained personnel. Because of the latter, it is only done for those with severe respiratory symptoms.
The second one is the antibodies test, also known as the “quick test.” This one measures the amount of antibodies related to the virus. This test tends to be less trustworthy than the first, resulting in false negatives, because the antibodies only show up after the virus has been in the body for seven days.
People will receive one of these tests 14 days after their last symptom goes away, to make sure they are immune or that they are not transmitting the disease to others. Those with autoimmune diseases that survive the virus will be tested 28 days after their last symptom, while healthcare workers will be tested every 15 days to make sure they don’t transmit the disease.
Why Is The Government Doing This?
The point of the card is to “reopen” the country. The Ministry of Health has said that those who have already had the disease have a near-impossible chance of getting it a second time. Accordingly, they are considered immune and can go to work, helping those who aren’t immune and helping to reactivate the economy, an important goal of the current administration.
Many experts criticize the move, as it isn’t entirely clear that those that have been infected and recovered are immune, or, if they are, for how long. Other healthcare professionals have stated their half support for the idea.
“It is a controversial subject,” said Dr. Rosario Rivadeneira, an endocrinologist in the Clínica Alemana, “less about the document but more about the type of tests that they are doing. We don’t know if we should do the PCR or just the antibodies test. Although some infectologists have said that they should focus the testing on specific populations, for example health care professionals.”
Dr. Omar Nazzal, vice president of Amedi, an association that unites health professionals that work in IntegraMédica, said, “It is useful to have a certificate that guarantees that people aren’t infected. However, that information is not 100% objective.” He added, “The PCR test doesn’t work as an outgoing test because it tests the body’s response to the virus. The antibodies test measures the IGG, which only shows up on the seventh day, but when it shows up the virus doesn’t infect other people anymore.”
When asked about the possibility of being infected again, Dr. Nazzal said, “That’s what we don’t know, people could be immune for life or for a couple of months. If we look at viruses in the corona family, they usually infect you once and then never again. But that is an uncertainty that we have at the moment.”
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.