The World Health Organization warned Saturday that there was “no evidence” that recovered COVID-19 patients with antibodies were immune to a second coronavirus infection.
The WHO issued the warning in a scientific brief as it confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide topped 2.8 million. Worldwide fatalities have now exceeded 200,000, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics. Johns Hopkins said late Saturday the global death tally was 202,831.
"Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an 'immunity passport' or 'risk-free certificate' that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against reinfection," the WHO said.
"There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection," it added.
Chile said last week that it would start distributing “health passports” to people who were considered recovered patients, allowing them to return to their jobs. Before receiving passports, they were to be screened to determine whether they had developed antibodies.
'Fresh outbreak' warning in Iran
Other countries were also taking action to reopen their economies, even amid fears of new outbreaks.
Iran, the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, warned Saturday of a “fresh outbreak” at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in the mostly Shiite country.
Iran’s ministry of infectious diseases said there were “signs of a fresh outbreak” in northern and central provinces “where we made great efforts to control the epidemic.”
The warning came after Iran began reopening some businesses that had been closed on April 11 because of the virus.
Other countries were moving ahead with plans to ease travel restrictions and reopen businesses to jump-start their economies, including the U.S., the world leader by far in coronavirus infections and fatalities.
The southeastern U.S. state of Georgia has become the center of debate over when to lift lockdown orders that have kept hundreds of millions of people indoors.
On Friday, Georgia became the first U.S. state to launch a widespread reopening effort, allowing some nonessential businesses to reopen “on a limited basis.” The businesses were permitted to reopen their doors before the state’s monthlong shutdown is lifted on April 30, despite warnings from some elected officials in the state that it could spark a new surge in coronavirus infections.
Oklahoma also allowed some retail businesses to reopen Friday, and Florida opened some of its beaches to visitors a week ago. South Carolina eased some restrictions on Monday, and other states plan to relax guidelines next week.
While U.S. President Donald Trump voiced opposition to Georgia’s reopening after initially supporting it, he has pushed to reopen the U.S. economy sooner than most health experts have recommended.
Soaring US deficit
The U.S. Congressional Budget Office said Friday that the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus in the U.S. would last through next year, as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the financial health of countries around the world.
The nonpartisan agency said the U.S. budget deficit would nearly quadruple from $1 trillion to $3.7 trillion this year and the unemployment rate would soar from 3.5% in February to 16% in September. The CBO predicted that unemployment would fall after September but would remain in double digits through 2021.
The report intensified pressure on the Trump administration as it tries to balance concerns about the ballooning federal deficit with the provision of stimulus money to offset the outbreak’s economic effects.
Trump signed a $484 billion relief package Friday for small-business loans and help for hospitals in expanding COVID-19 testing. The money was part of more than $3 trillion the U.S. government has spent to boost the economy.
The coronavirus has had a devastating effect on the global economy, but the International Monetary Fund and other organizations warn that developing countries will be the worst hit.
The U.N. food agency projects that 265 million people could experience acute hunger this year, twice as many as last year. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on governments to ensure health care is available to all people and that economic aid packages help those most affected.
A report released this week said Spain, which is second to the U.S. in number of confirmed cases, had more health care workers infected with COVID-19 than anywhere else in the world. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, citing available official data, said 20% of the more than 200,000 registered coronavirus cases in Spain had been confirmed among its health care workers. The report found that 10% of Italy’s cases and 3% of the U.S. cases had been detected in those who work in the medical field.
Spain’s Medical Colleges Organization said the high rate of infections in health care workers was due to the lack of “essential safety measures.”
Spain has seen the number of recovered cases outnumber new infections in recent days, and the government announced Saturday that children under 14 would be allowed to go outdoors Sunday for the first time since March 15.
G-20 raises funds
The G-20 group of industrial and emerging-market nations called Friday on “all countries, international organizations, the private sector, philanthropic institutions and individuals” to contribute to its funding efforts to fight COVID-19, setting an $8 billion goal.
The G-20, an international forum for the governments and central bank governors of 19 nations and the European Union, said it had previously raised $1.9 billion. Saudi Arabia, the current holder of the G-20 presidency, contributed $500 million.
As of Saturday afternoon EDT, the U.S. had more than 924,000 COVID-19 cases, nearly one-third of the world’s total. There had also been more coronavirus deaths in the U.S. than in any other country in the world, with more than 53,000, more than one-quarter of the world’s coronavirus-related deaths.