On the 13th April 2020, almost two months ago, the Government released a Note from SAGE’s SPI-B team tasking them with looking at the consequences of Antibody testing on peoples’ sense of security in a bid to restart the economy:
At this time the Government is saying that widespread antibody testing would incentivise employers to get people back to work. Their Note, however, admits that there are issues with false positives and accuracy of these tests. Specifically there is a risk that people who have tested:
Positive - May actually not have had the virus and therefore take risks that they shouldn’t
Negative - May become unnecessarily cautious with a reluctance to return to work
SPI-B have been actively involved in the use of Applied Behavioural Psychology, and had previous developed a strategy to maintain levels of social-distancing fear and compliance in the population. This was achieved by increasing perceived threats from Covid-19 (including by the use of mainstream media), use of Social disapproval' and by the use of enablers such as local council, parishes and charities. You can read more from our post about that:
Nature Journal warns that, in their view, any documentation that limits individual freedoms on the basis of biology risks becoming a platform for restricting human rights, increasing discrimination and threatening rather than protecting public health.
They provide 10 reasons why immunity passports won’t, can’t and shouldn’t be implemented:
1. COVID-19 immunity is a mystery
2. Serological tests are unreliable
3. The volume of testing needed is unfeasible
4. Too few survivors to boost the economy
5. Monitoring erodes privacy
6. Marginalised groups will face more scrutiny
7. Unfair lack of access to testing for the poor and vulnerable
8. Societal stratification means people are divided by labels
9. New forms of medical discrimination may be ushered in
10. Threats to public health from perverse incentives of getting infected
There are huge ethical questions around what it means to monitor peoples’ health and then making that information available to an employer. Should the Government allow for employers to discriminate against those who do not have immunity, what will this do to the psychology of the population? At this stage there is no clarity on lack of Covid-19 immunity as a disability and no discussion around how the Equality Act 2010, for example, would protect people from discrimination if at all:
Also should people deliberately want to catch the virus, this would be counter to the Government’s stated intention. There is a real possibility that those on the breadline with families to feed may become desperate to the point of considering this as a way to return to some sense of normality as a function of survival. Children's chickenpox parties have been common to confer immunity and it’s possible that people may begin to do something similar in a controlled way themselves.
Beyond the question of reliability of the tests and impracticalities of testing c. 68 million people in the UK, there is also the question of whether there are enough ‘survivors’, with immunity, who can go out to keep the economy afloat. This system clearly shuts out a significant majority of the country from working or interfacing with others.
Given all of these issues we need to ask whether the Government is making decisions that are in the public interest or in fact those of employers. Are any of these measures truly justified for a disease that causes death in less than 1% of the population, typically the oldest and most frail with comorbidities who are unlikely to be working and can be shielded? We quote Chris Whitty's statement regarding this on the 11th May 2020:
Fundamental questions remain on what the Government's true strategy is and what an Immunity Passport is really for.