Brave new world of immunity

Brave new world of immunity

It's spring 2021. You have just sat through an hour-long interview for your dream job. The vibe is good, and you're pretty sure you crushed it. Yes, you have a work authorization, and of course you're willing to move to the city of X to take the gig. But before you walk out, your future boss asks one last question: "Do you have your COVID-19 immunity certificate?"

You don't, because the antibody test you took months ago turned up negative.

"Oh," she says, "well, I'm very sorry but, in that case, we can't move forward with your application. A shame, but do keep in touch and let us know when you have an immunity certification, ok?"


As societies around the world move cautiously towards reopening their economies without the benefit of a coronavirus vaccine that confers widespread immunity, dystopian scenes like this one aren't that far-fetched. Chile has already issued the world's first "immunity card." Governments in France, the UK, and the city of Los Angeles have floated the idea too.

If businesses are concerned about the health and economic impacts of the disease spreading in the workplace — or to clients and customers — bosses will be keenly interested to know if employees have immunity to COVID-19. That opens up several important problems.

We don't know enough about immunity. The WHO has warned that there still isn't enough evidence that people who have had COVID-19 develop long-lasting immunity to it. There may be more evidence in the coming months as experts monitor antibodies in people who have recovered, but concern about short-lived or lapsed immunity will become a challenge for any certificate system.

Oversight and responsibility. Developing a credible and standardized proof of immunity is not only an immense healthcare challenge, but also a political one. Who issues them and under what privacy conditions? A national immunity "passport" is potentially an option for countries with centralized political systems and high levels of trust in government. But it's hard to imagine something like that working in the US, for example, where opposition even to a national ID card has always been strong, from groups on both the left and right concerned about privacy and government overreach.

The Brave New World problem. Just as the world of Aldous Huxley's famous novel divided people into different, color-coded professional castes, a situation where some people have COVID immunity certificates and others don't could quickly split the labor force into people who can easily find jobs and those who can't.

There's a historical precedent for this: in 19th century New Orleans, the yellow fever immunity card requirements quickly amplified class and racial divides. Back here in the 21st century, with unemployment rates soaring around the world as a result of lockdowns, anything that makes it harder for people to find work is going to become politically contentious, and fast.

Perverse incentives. Lastly, given the high stakes of proving immunity, will non-immune people try to counterfeit certificates, endangering their future co-workers and customers? Worse, will people feel pressured to contract the virus just to develop the immunity that will help them find a job?

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

India's rape problem: Hundreds of protesters have flocked to the streets of New Delhi for four days straight after a 9-year old girl was raped and murdered in a small village outside the capital while going to fetch water for her family. Some demonstrators burned effigies of India's PM Narendra Modi, saying that the government has not done enough — or anything, really — to address the country's abysmal rape problem: there were more than 32,000 rapes recorded in 2019, certainly a vast undercount given the stigma associated with reporting sexual assaults in India. The scourge of sexual violence against women and girls in India was brought to light in 2012 when a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered while traveling on a bus in the nation's capital, prompting international outrage. Four men have been arrested in connection with this week's attack, though they have not been charged. The city of New Delhi, meanwhile, has ordered an inquiry to probe events surrounding the young girl's death, though Indians who have been sounding the alarm on violence against women for decades aren't expecting much to come of it.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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20,200: As the super contagious delta variant continues to spread, Thailand is now a COVID hotspot, recording more than 20,200 new COVID cases Wednesday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began. Authorities imposed new restrictions in Bangkok and other provinces as the vaccine rollout remains sluggish; just 5.8 percent of Thailand's 66 million people are fully vaccinated.

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