‘Tech firms are in talks with ministers about creating health passports to help Britons return safely to work using coronavirus testing and facial recognition.
Facial biometrics could be used to help provide a digital certificate – sometimes known as an immunity passport – proving which workers have had Covid-19, as a possible way of easing the impact on the economy and businesses from ongoing physical distancing even after current lockdown measures are eased.
The UK-based firm Onfido, which specialises in verifying people’s identities using facial biometrics, has delivered detailed plans to the government and is involved in a number of conversations about what could be rolled out across the country, it is understood.
Its proposals, which have reached pilot stages in other countries, could be executed within months, it says. The firm could use antibody tests – proving whether someone has had the virus – or antigen tests, which show current infections.
Digital identity experts say they are in the “discovery stage” of what could be tailored for the UK government, but developing a type of health certificate through app technology is gaining traction.
The government is understood to be moving away from the phrase “immunity passport” as evidence continues to emerge on exactly how immunity develops after someone has had Covid-19. The World Health Organization has also issued a stark warning over attempts to give people false assurance through a passport scheme.
On Monday, Boris Johnson will call on countries to come together in a “truly global effort” to defeat the coronavirus as he co-hosts a virtual Coronavirus Global Response International Pledging Conference, and confirms the UK’s promise of £388m funding for research into vaccines, tests and treatments.
It comes ahead of the prime minister outlining a “roadmap” out of lockdown, including the need to tackle workers’ fears of being in close proximity to others.
Over the weekend, two firms made breakthroughs on developing antibody tests. The Swiss drugmaker Roche received emergency use approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for a test they have developed, while Quotient, in Edinburgh, says its screening machines have capacity for up to 36,000 antibody tests a day and produce results in 35 minutes with 99.8% accuracy.
These are lab-based tests, however, relying on blood to be taken by a medical professional and requiring large machines for analysis, taking time.
The holy grail in antibody testing is a home pregnancy test-style kit that would provide almost instant results. So far none on the market, including 17.5m ordered by the government, have been demonstrated as sufficiently accurate. Typically these tests produce false negatives about half to 70% of the time.’
Read more: Coronavirus UK: health passports ‘possible in months’