Researchers report more people with Covid-19 antibodies – and it’s creating a stir among scientists


Surveys from Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States have found antibodies in people not previously diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, suggesting more people were infected with the virus responsible for the global pandemic than previously known.

But many of the studies have sparked significant controversy, with experts raising concerns about the accuracy of antibody testing methods, how well the surveyed subjects represented the population and questions over how much antibodies protected against Covid-19, according to a report in Science Magazine.

While some specialists said higher numbers of unconfirmed infections – based on the presence of antibodies – reinforced the need for strict physical-distancing measures, others suggested it could allow for some easing of lockdown measures because there was progress towards herd immunity, or resistance among the general population to the disease.

The World Health Organisation’s guidance last Friday said that while some governments had suggested the detection of antibodies to the virus, officially called SARS-Cov-2, could allow people with antibodies to travel or return to work, “there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection”.
While most who contracted the virus would develop an antibody response that could offer some level of protection, it was not yet clear what level of protection was provided or how long it would last, the WHO said.

German virologist Hendrik Streeck, from the University of Bonn, carried out a study this month in Heinsberg, which is an epicentre of the virus in Germany under strict lockdown. Streeck’s study found that 14 per cent of 500 people had antibodies to the virus.