Yes, My Lords!
In general, things either work out or they don’t, and if they don’t, you figure out something else, a plan B. There’s nothing wrong with plan B – Dick Van Dyke.
My Lords, it saddens me that five months after what probably started as a sneeze from far away Wuhan, China, the rest of the world is still battling with a cold – a sad but obvious fulfilment of the saying that when some countries sneeze, the rest of the world go down with a cold. As I come before you today, perhaps, what saddens me more is that unlike common cold, the case at hand leaves us with a pandemic ravaging mankind for the first time, yet leaving behind unending effects that, if proactive measures are not taken, the productive wheel of the world may soon hit pause and hit ground zero.
The immunity passport is a permit which allows those who have tested negative to the virus to return to their daily activities because of the antibodies they have developed which prevent them from further contracting or transmitting the virus. Sadly, like every other unexpected move, this has caused controversies amongst many due to hasty consumption of information. But how best can we prove critics wrong than by coming before your lordships and stripping bare the unconvoluted facts?
First with the uncertainties, my lords, the extent of globalisation and the social nature of humans have made it extremely difficult to predict the end of the coronavirus and when the lockdown will be lifted. Normally, since we don’t know the end of the virus, what seems the next option is to move for an immediate cure. However, just last Wednesday, the BBC, in a report on when we will have a vaccine, stated that developing one would normally take years, if not decades. And though for coronavirus, researchers are working at breakneck speed, skipping tests on animals to test directly on humans, experts still think a vaccine may not be available until mid 2021. What’s more saddening is that there is no guarantee it will work. What these uncertainties make clear is that we have to shift our gaze from the unknown to what will save us all from this quagmire.
On some people testing positive again, experts say it is unlikely that reinfection is the cause of these new positive results. Richard Condit, a molecular biologist and professor emeritus at the University of Florida College of Medicine, points out that it is most likely the case that the tests earlier administered to these patients weren’t sensitive enough to distinguish between an active infection and one from which a patient has mostly recovered. Buttressing this is Purvi Parikh, an immunologist at NYU Langone Health, who revealed that sometimes, healthcare workers don’t collect enough material from a patient to get a clear answer, and that the tests themselves vary so widely that a negative in one could be a positive in another. So you see, the problem is not about weak immunity, but that we set people free even before they were free of the virus, and once we get this right, there’s nothing that stops us from proceeding with the immunity passport.
According to Worldometer’s COVID-19 data, of the 81,783 closed cases in China, 94% (77,151) of people have recovered. Experts across the globe agree that people who have recovered have developed immunity to the virus, being unable to contract or transmit it, hence fit to return to their normal life. Contrary to what opposing counsel may argue, keeping 94% of people already immune to the virus at home is just sickening and a waste of human resources, when we can utilise their abilities to at least regulate the effects of the pandemic on the economy. Indeed, a continuous lockdown helps no one. If in less than four months, 22 million people in the USA have filed for unemployment, how many would be hurled into unemployment in African countries whose economies are still gyrating between recession and depression? Well, we may never know since the only data we have is that with which we tweet memes of the activities of our corrupt political leaders.
Counsel on the other side may while away time arguing about the present uncertainties surrounding the immunity against the virus. I agree that, presently, the sky is still heavy with fog. However, the point has never been to issue the passport without conclusive proof of immunity. Presently, people are being tested to determine their antibody levels, and only those whose antibodies are strong enough to repel a reinfection will be issued. It’s just instinctive that, at a time when a vaccine may not arrive till our little infants stop to suckle, we may have no choice than to fall for measures that manage the pandemic and stabilise the economy.
Finally, my Lords, as a noble scribe in this courtroom, it eludes me to describe our patience for a possible vaccine this year as a case of “waiting for godot”. Though I am not oblivious that people are now being paid to take for free valuables like the “black gold”, I will still join the crowd and be optimistic. Perhaps, just minutes before what is left of the GDP of this failing world economy begins to read in the negative and people begin to rebel against the lockdown, we will find a permanent cure to first test-run on animals and, after months of waiting, if it is considered safe by experts, begin to administer it on humans. Maybe we will do this or maybe we will be wise and bold enough to save nine with a stitch in time, and collectively throw our weight behind immunity passports. The choice is ours!
There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with the east wind is to put on your overcoat – James Russell Lowell.
A silver-tongued orator once said, there is a great difference between painting a face and not washing it. However clever this saying may seem, it is merely spurious at its best or misleading at its worst. In the scheme of things, willful refusal to deal with a problem and creating an atmosphere where solving that problem is impossible are six of one and half a dozen of another. Rumor has it that the World Health Organization has commenced research into the propensity of convalescent patients of COVID-19 to build immunity against future infection by the virus, and profoundly moved that several beneficial politico-economic activities have come to a halt, some have recommended that governments of respective countries grant immunity passports – permits to fully recovered ex-patients of COVID-19 to go about their business during the ongoing lockdown. That this recommendation is well-intentioned is doubtless, but it is doubtful whether it will prove fruitful and sure as hell that it will in the short run prove extremely dangerous.
My Lords will find it interesting that the bone of contention in the case before you today is completely undeserving of this court’s attention. How else, when my opponent, proponent of the grant of immunity passports, has refused to lay bare before this court the depths of the ongoing research and the incredible fact that it is inconclusive? Yes! Even WHO has some serious doubts about the existence of the intuited immunity, and to quote Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, “We have no evidence that the use of a serological test – which tests the blood for antibodies – shows the presence of COVID-19 antibodies and it is not yet clear what kind of protection is afforded by COVID-19 antibodies.”
Will it then be reasonable to commit the health and safety of billions of people in the universe to the hope that a hypothesis proves factual? Absolutely not! It is sheer wisdom to only conclude from conclusive findings and trust only tested hypotheses. To do otherwise will be tantamount to bringing home an unknown breed of wild cat, hopeful that it will not turn out to be wilder than a jaguar.
Should WHO conclude their finding tomorrow and pronounce certainty of immunity of convalescent patients against the virus, we still cannot be inclined to agree with the opponent that it would then be reasonable to follow the recommendation. This is because doubts as to the existence of the antibodies is one side of the coin; doubts as to the effectiveness of the COVID-19 antibodies is the other. For one, immunity does not last for all eternity and, for another, it does not extend to unsuspecting persons the immune ex-patients of coronavirus might make contact with. Shall we then sacrifice the health and safety of others on the altar of the free movement of others? Absolutely not!
My opponent’s one thousand words of casuistry can be summarized in ten: Immunity passport is the only passport out of economic impasse.
While we agree with him that the COVID-19 pandemic has created an impasse on economic activities, to the paralysis of the economic and financial interests of countries and households, we beg to differ with his point of view on the escape route. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of World Health Organization, has said that only 2 to 3% of the coronavirus infected population have the ‘antibodies’. And should experience still be the best teacher, economic activities are a chain of separable but greatly intertwined activities – ideation, production, management, marketing, sales, and consumption. It is therefore unthinkable that the world’s $92 trillion GDP be entrusted to only 60,000 individuals who produce, market, sell and consume them all by themselves. We, the ‘lucky’ ones who tested negative or never at all, 7,774,400,000 of us, may as well count ourselves exiled from this world.
Finally, if my opponent and I have sameness of mind towards any issue raised today, it is that the overstay of the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt more blows on our affairs than we ever envisioned. We have all suffered loss one way or the other. Over 2 million people have been diagnosed with the virus; 177,000 have been killed; 170 countries have been thrust into total lockdown and the world’s GDP at risk of toppling down. These sadly familiar headlines point to the underlying fact that the pandemic quagmire needs to be addressed with immediacy. But whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. If we are to salvage our world from this pandemic, we must combine efforts in the fight against it. That is the surefire way to restore our world to its original place.