Immunity certificates could lead to a two-tier workplace

Proposed “immunity certificates” allowing individuals to move freely in society could lead to discrimination, claims Edgar Whitley, Associate Professor from London School of Economics’ Department of Management, and other contributing experts in a new report.

The report – Exit Through The App Store – from The Ada Lovelace Institute, which ensures public interest is represented in debates on the use of technology, discusses how the UK Government could use various technologies to transition out of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. One option would be using digital immunity certificates.

These certificates would indicate, after an immunity test, that a person has recovered from COVID-19 and is probably unable to catch and spread the virus again. This would enable some people to return to work, care for the vulnerable or ill, and restore some social and economic functioning.

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However, Whitley warns that the certificates could risk creating a two-tiered society; only immune individuals would be able to return to work with free movement while the ill or not-yet-immune are placed under restrictions. ‘Immunity’ would become an identity attribute as we transition from lockdown, with immunity discrimination commonplace in an attempt to ensure public health and to save lives. This would lead to both social and financial disadvantages.

Whitley claims it could also lead to fraud. “Individuals who need to return to work may fake an immunity certificate, or some may falsely claim they are not-yet-immune so they don’t have to do work they consider dangerous. Some people may even infect themselves deliberately so they can become immune, putting themselves and others at risk.”

Any proposals for immunity certificates would only be credible with a robust immunity test, Whitley states, and the World Health organisation warns that there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.

Image: The Assumption of the Virgin by Francisco Botticini 1475, depicting the three hierarchies of angels. National Gallery.