Germans could soon be issued “immunity certificates” that would allow them to leave the country’s coronavirus lockdown earlier than the rest of the population if they test positive for antibodies to the virus.
States across Germany are in lockdown, with strict quarantines imposed in some parts of the country.
However, researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig want to send out hundreds of thousands of antibody tests over the coming weeks that could allow people to break free of the lockdowns, Der Spiegel reported on Friday.
If the project is approved, the researchers will test 100,000 people at a time starting in early April, Der Spiegel said.
The tests are designed to detect whether a person has developed antibodies to the COVID-19 virus, indicating that they were at one time a carrier and may have built up immunity.
A positive test could allow the person to leave the lockdown while many positive tests could allow governments to ease restrictions in areas with “herd immunity.”
Gerard Krause, the epidemiologist leading the project, told the magazine that people who are immune “could be given a type of vaccination card that, for example, allows them to be exempted” from “restrictions on their work.”
Germany has one of the lowest COVID-19 death rates in the world, which some experts and commentators have said is a result of the extensive testing rolled out by Chancellor Angel Merkel’s government.
The United Kingdom has similar plans to roll out antibody testing to loosen its lockdown. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has ordered millions of at-home coronavirus testing kits that, if approved for use, could be sent to frontline workers over the coming weeks and sold in pharmacies and through online retailers like Amazon.
However, coronavirus testing has so far had mixed success around the world. Spain was recently forced to return tens of thousands of rapid coronavirus tests from a Chinese company after they were found to provide inconsistent results.
Some tests have also reportedly demonstrated false positives, detecting antibodies to other, much more common coronaviruses.
Scientists also remain unsure about the extent to which past infection with the virus can prevent reinfection and for how long immunity will remain.