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Dr Margaret Harris told BBC News that the WHO did expect reinfection could happen but highlighted there is currently only one confirmed case of reinfection out of more than 23 million cases of COVID-19. The WHO expert added that the confirmed reinfection in Hong Kong raises questions regarding how long we can expect immunity from the coronavirus to last.
Dr Harris said: “So this is the first time that we have seen it is very clearly two different versions of the same coronavirus.
“What is important here is that this is one case out of more than 23 million.
“So, while we did expect that it could happen, it is not clear that this is something that is likely to happen to many people.
“We would expect given the quality of surveillance and the study in Hong Kong just shows what a high level of quality surveillance they are doing there.”
She added: “So, given the quality of surveillance you would have expected it see many more cases if this was happening a lot.
“But what it also tells us is what we long expected, we do not know enough about how long immunity lasts or whether it lasts a long time in many people or most people.
“So those questions remain open.”
Earlier this morning Professor Hung from the University of Hong Kong told the BBC’s Today Programme: “Even though you have an infection before, it doesn’t mean you are immunised for life.
“You are still at risk of having a second, or even a third infection.
“As a result, vaccination is very important and also the infection control measures, including masking and also social distancing still remains really important.”
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Government’s scientific advice team added: “The second infection was only picked up on airport screenings and he actually didn’t have any symptoms.
“So it might have been that he had some protection against the more severe respiratory-tract form of the disease.”
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The healthy man in his 30s spent 14 days in hospital in March with coronavirus symptoms.
In August he returned a positive coronavirus test despite being asymptomatic.
Brendan Wren, professor of microbial pathogenesis, at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said regarding the reinfection: “It should not negate the global drive to develop COVID-19 vaccines.
“It is to be expected that the virus will naturally mutate over time.”
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