Hi there,

Today we'll check your immunity certificate, visit Salvadoran prisons, try to squeeze Taiwan into the WHO, check Latin America's looming poverty challenge, and buy lots of weed in California.

For all our coronavirus coverage in one place, visit us here.

-Alex Kliment


Hi there,

Today we'll check your immunity certificate, visit Salvadoran prisons, try to squeeze Taiwan into the WHO, check Latin America's looming poverty challenge, and buy lots of weed in California.

For all our coronavirus coverage in one place, visit us here.

-Alex Kliment


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?

Tell us your thoughts on immunity certificates of this kind here.



A UN official warned this week that as many as 29 million people across Latin America and the Caribbean could be plunged into poverty because of the economic pain caused by the coronavirus. Latin America's economy, which is expected to contract 5.2 percent this year, will be hit far harder than any other region, and could take up to a decade to repair. This would undo many of the social and economic gains of the past two decades that have pulled millions out of poverty. Here's a look at the number of impoverished people in Latin America's most populous countries over the past two decades – a glimpse of what's at stake.



Microsoft launched an Open Data Campaign to help address the looming "data divide" and help organizations of all sizes to realize the benefits of data and the new technologies it powers. Microsoft believes everyone can benefit from opening, sharing and collaborating around data to make better decisions, improve efficiency and even help tackle some of the world's most pressing societal challenges. The campaign aims to advance a much-needed discussion about how the world uses and shares data.

For more about the campaign visit Microsoft On The Issues.



We don't know where Kim Jong-un is these days. But we do know that he performed one of the best battle tracks of all time, back when his relationship with Donald Trump wasn't so lovey. Check out Un-Stoppable, here.



El Salvador's crackdown on gangs: After days of violence that left at least 60 people dead across the country, El Salvador's president Nayib Bukele authorized a "lethal" crackdown on gang members. The president said that after months of relative quiet on the streets of the Central American country because of coronavirus quarantines, gangs are taking advantage of a distracted government to wreak havoc. Most of the recent attacks were directed by gang members already in custody, prompting authorities to round up hundreds of semi-naked inmates, packing them together on prison floors while guards ransacked their cells. Human rights groups say that even before this, the virus was spreading wildly in notoriously jam-packed jails throughout Latin America. El Salvador has long been a hotspot of gang violence and human rights abuses, with police committing hundreds of extrajudicial executions between 2014-2018 as part of a state-sponsored crackdown on street gangs. The combination of a surging coronavirus outbreak in El Salvador, and emboldened gangs who dominate much of the country's informal economy, is a recipe for disaster.

Taiwan pushes to join WHO: Taiwan used a call with US health officials this week to ask for support in its bid to become a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) – a move long black-balled by Beijing, which considers the island nation part of China. As the US is the single biggest donor to the WHO, Taipei is hoping Washington can use the power of the purse (which the US has already done by recently withholding funds for 60 days) to pressure the World Health Assembly, which decides who can join the organization. Taipei, for its part, is using its success at containing the coronavirus as leverage, telling allies that its exclusion from the organization has in fact undermined the global effort to end the pandemic. (To drive the point home, Taiwan recently released a memo showing that it had warned the WHO about human-to-human transmission of the disease back in December but received no response.) It's worth noting that while the US is Taipei's most reliable advocate on the world stage, Washington also wants to avoid an open rupture with China over the issue.

Is Russian information reliable? Russia, which this week surpassed China in new cases of coronavirus, currently has 93,588 reported cases of the disease, and 867 deaths. More than half of cases are in Moscow. A government like Russia's, which has strong sway over the media, poses a special problem during a pandemic. In the heat of a health crisis, reliable information is critical to help the public avoid infection and contain the threat. But that can be a challenge in countries where state control over mass media forces people to seek info from unsanctioned sources. Some Russian doctors have used social media to cast doubt on the official coronavirus data, by posting the names of more than 70 medics who died fighting the virus but whose deaths weren't recorded as COVID cases. In addition, an investigative website reported this week that more than a dozen nurses have walked out of the largest of Moscow's two dozen coronavirus-only hospitals to protest low wages and inadequate protective gear. Russian public health officials have denied both stories.



3: Beijing complained to the European Union at least three times about an internal EU report that alleges China has waged a global propaganda campaign to deflect blame for its poor initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The pressure reportedly led EU officials to soften the language in a public summary of the report.

6,000: Having successfully tested a coronavirus vaccine on monkeys, scientists at Oxford University's Jenner Institute are set to begin a clinical trial on more than 6,000 people. This puts the Jenner labs at the front of the pack in the global race to develop a vaccine. If the trial is successful, several million doses could be ready by fall.

159: Sales of cannabis in the state of California have surged 159 percent during the first three months of the year, as Californians smoke up while locked down. Cannabis, which is sold legally in dispensaries across the state, has been classified as an essential product, putting it on equal footing with toilet paper and food staples like milk.

8.2: Cuba has 8.2 doctors per 1,000 people, by far the highest rate of any country in the world. For decades the Cuban regime has sent them abroad to earn cash and win hearts and minds. Over the past several months, hundreds of Cuban doctors have fanned out across the world to help other countries fight the coronavirus.



Thanks for reading to the end! Follow us on Twitter or, for the artier approach, on Instagram.

This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Alex Kliment, and Willis Sparks. The Graphic was made by Gabriella Turrisi.


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