Tag Archives: passports

Britain says to ease lockdown next week, will test vaccine passports

Britain’s slow but steady march out of a three-month lockdown remains on track even as coronavirus cases surge elsewhere in Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday, as he confirmed that businesses from barbers to bookstores will be allowed to reopen next week

Johnson said it’s too soon to decide, however, whether U.K. residents will be able to have summer trips abroad. He confirmed that the government will test out a “vaccine passport” system — a way for people to offer proof they have protection from COVID-19 — as a tool to help travel and large events return safely.

Four weeks after England took its first step out of lockdown by reopening schools, Johnson said Britain’s vaccination program was proceeding well and infections were falling. He said the next step would come as planned on April 12, with the reopening of hairdressers, beauty salons, gyms, non-essential shops and bar and restaurant patios. 

“We set out our road map and we’re sticking to it,” Johnson said during a news conference.

But, he added: “We can’t be complacent. We can see the waves of sickness afflicting other countries, and we’ve seen how this story goes.”

A ban on overnight stays away from home in England will also be lifted April 12, and outdoor venues such as zoos and drive-in cinemas can operate again.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different paths out of lockdown.

Highest death toll in Europe

Britain has recorded almost 127,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe. But infections and deaths both have fallen sharply during the current lockdown and since the start of a vaccination campaign that has given a first dose to more than 31 million people, or six in 10 adults.


People paint red hearts onto the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, on the Embankment in London on April 5, 2021. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

The government aims to give all adults at least one shot of vaccine by July, and hopes that a combination of vaccination and mass testing will allow indoor socializing and large-scale events to return.

It says all adults and children in England will be encouraged to have routine coronavirus tests twice a week as a way to stamp out new outbreaks. The government said free lateral flow tests will be available free starting Friday by mail, from pharmacies and in workplaces. 

Lateral flow tests give results in minutes but are less accurate than the PCR swab tests used to officially confirm cases of COVID-19. But the government insists they are reliable and will help find people who contract the virus but don’t have symptoms.

Britons are currently banned by law from going on holiday abroad under the extraordinary powers Parliament has given the government to fight the pandemic. The government said Monday it won’t lift the travel ban before May 17 — and maybe later.

“The government hopes people will be able to travel to and from the U.K. to take a summer holiday this year, but it is still too soon to know what is possible,” it said in an official update.

Once travel resumes, Britain will rank countries on a traffic-light system as green, yellow or red based on their level of vaccinations, infections and worrying new virus variants. People arriving from “green” countries will have to be tested but won’t face quarantine.

The government also is testing a system of “COVID-status certification” — often dubbed “vaccine passports” — that would allow people seeking to travel or attend events to show they either have received a coronavirus vaccine, tested negative for the virus, or recently had COVID-19 and therefore have some immunity. 

The return of football

A series of events will start this month, including soccer matches, comedy shows and marathon races. The government said the first events will rely only on testing, “but in later pilots vaccination and acquired immunity are expected to be alternative ways to demonstrate status.”


A vial of of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Sikh temple, on the day the first Vaisakhi Vaccine Clinic is launched, in Luton, England, on March 21, 2021. (Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

The issue of vaccine passports has been hotly debated around the world, raising questions about how much governments, employers and venues have a right to know about a person’s virus status. The idea is opposed by a wide swath of British lawmakers, from left-of-center opposition politicians to members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, and the policy could face stiff opposition when it is put before Parliament later this month.

Conservative legislator Graham Brady said vaccine passports would be “intrusive, costly and unnecessary.” The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, called the idea “un-British.”

The government said vaccine passports were all but unavoidable, since many countries were certain to demand proof of COVID-19 status for entry.

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CBC | World News

Asymptomatic COVID-19 findings dim hopes for ‘herd immunity’ and ‘immunity passports’

A closer look at people who tested positive for COVID-19 but never developed symptoms has found that such asymptomatic carriers have few to no detectable antibodies just weeks after infection, suggesting they may not develop lasting immunity.

There’s growing evidence that a significant proportion of people who test positive for COVID-19 never show symptoms, although it’s not clear what percentage of people that is and what role they play in spreading the disease.

A Chinese study published this week in Nature followed 37 people in Wanzhou District in China who did not show any outward signs of the disease, despite testing positive when their respiratory tracts were swabbed and being kept in hospital for observation.

Some key findings include:

  • Levels of antibodies against COVID-19 were significantly lower in asymptomatic carriers than those with symptoms during active infection.

  • Antibody levels also dropped off far more quickly in people who never showed symptoms, and 40 per cent of them had no detectable antibodies eight weeks after recovery, compared with 13 per cent of symptomatic patients.

  • Those with asymptomatic infections tested positive for an average of five days longer than people with symptomatic infections — 19 days compared with 14 days — suggesting that they were shedding the virus longer.


Unlike nasal swab tests that can only detect an active infection, antibody tests can detect previous infections. But a new study suggests antibodies often don’t stick around for long after an infection. (Zuleika Chan)

The study also found that despite having no outward symptoms, 70 per cent had lung abnormalities detectable in X-rays at some point during infection — mostly spots called “ground-glass opacities,” which can indicate inflammation or other signs of disease.

No antibodies could mean no immunity, but not necessarily

Dr. Samir Gupta, a clinician-scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, noted in an interview with CBC News Network earlier this week that the study was very small.

Gupta, who wasn’t involved in the study, added that it wasn’t surprising that antibody levels fell a few months after infection. He said that’s normal, since it’s energy intensive for the body to maintain antibodies it doesn’t need.

What was “a little bit surprising,” he said, was the fact that 40 per cent of people with asymptomatic infections had no detectable antibodies at all.

WATCH | Dr. Samir Gupta on Alberta’s testing plans:

Dr. Samir Gupta says Alberta’s testing may help to understand how far the coronavirus spread but he’s doubtful we’ve reached herd immunity. 8:35

However, Gupta said, people have immunity to coronaviruses that cause common colds for only a few months, and that may also be the case for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

On the other hand, he said, “antibodies aren’t the whole story.”

There are other components of the immune system that play a role, such as memory cells. They remember a pathogen and begin releasing antibodies when they encounter it again, but they are hard to detect, Gupta said.

What this means for herd immunity and vaccines

Still, Tania Watts, a professor of immunology at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study, expressed concern about the implications.

“This suggests that natural infection may not give long-lasting immunity, which is what people have been worried about,” she said.

Some countries such as Sweden and at least one Canadian province have previously suggested that one way to control the spread of COVID-19 is to allow most of the population to get infected in a controlled fashion to generate “herd immunity.” Once the population reaches a certain threshold of previous infection, there won’t be enough susceptible people to spread the virus, and it can’t spread exponentially as an epidemic.


A patient receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 in March. A vaccine will need to produce a strong and long-lasting immune response, something that natural infection may not always do. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

But Watts said the low and short-lived levels of antibodies in asymptomatic infections in this study suggest we can’t rely on herd immunity being induced for long enough a period of time to have an impact.

That means we may need to wait for a vaccine that induces a stronger, longer-lived response than many natural infections, she said. “I think this puts even more pressure on vaccine development.”

What this means for antibody tests, ‘immunity passports’

Watts said another implication of the study is that serological (blood) or antibody tests — which have been touted as a way to get an idea of who has been previously infected, how much of the population that represents and how close that is to herd immunity — may not work as hoped.

And it throws cold water on the idea of controversial “immunity passports,” the idea of allowing more social interactions, such as work, travel and mass gatherings, for people who have previously been infected and therefore are immune and can’t spread the virus — which would be based on serological testing. 

“Until we know what part of the immune system is protective,” Watts said, “it’s difficult to be able to do a test and tell someone you’re safe or not.”

What this means for disease transmission

While it’s known that presymptomatic people can transmit COVID-19, it’s not really known whether people who remain asymptomatic through the course of the disease can.

Watts said she thinks the finding in this study that people without symptoms shed the virus longer than people with symptoms is “shocking” and suggests we need to worry about transmission from asymptomatic people.

“Until we have a vaccine, I think we should have very clear recommendations that everybody wears masks.”

She said the longer period of viral shedding is probably because a lack of symptoms indicate a weaker immune response, resulting in a longer time to clear the infection.

On the other hand, too intense an immune response is what puts patients in the ICU struggling to breathe.

The ideal is somewhere in between and what we’d like in a vaccine, Watts said.

“We really need that Goldilocks immune response.”

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CBC | Health News

Peru starts demanding passports, visas from Venezuelans

Dozens of riot police stood guard at Peru’s northern border on Saturday, hours after new entry measures requiring Venezuelan migrants to hold a passport and humanitarian visa took effect.

More than 9,000 Venezuelans entered the country with just their national ID cards on Friday, the highest number ever recorded by Peruvian immigration authorities.

Peru’s Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio told the radio station RPP on Saturday that the mandatory humanitarian visa for migrants was a “beneficial” measure that would help Venezuelans obtain permission to work legally for 183 days.

He said that some exceptions would still be allowed for “minors who only have birth certificates and are in transit to Peru to meet up with their parents, adults in transit to meet their families, adults in extremely vulnerable positions and the elderly.”

Hundreds of thousands seek refugee status

He also acknowledged that securing a passport in Venezuela is difficult, but said that “the majority” already enter with such a document.

According to Peruvian authorities, more than 820,000 Venezuelans have settled in Peru since 2016 of which 270,000 have sought refugee status.

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra has said the new entry requirements will make immigration “safer and more orderly” and that the large influx of Venezuelan immigrants was making it harder for Peruvians to find jobs.

But human rights groups in the country have criticized the move, describing it as an attempt to lessen the numbers of needy people who are entering.

Stephania Robles and her five-year-old son were two of the last migrants to come into the Andean country with just their IDs on Saturday.

“[I came] to look for a better life. My husband is in Peru in the city of Trujillo. My sisters are in Lima,” the 30-year-old said.

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