While the discovery does not guarantee anyone who has had the illness and recovered will be able to avoid catching it again, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said in early tests patients had developed the immune system protein which may fight off the virus.
Prof Van-Tam said the “overwhelming majority” of people who had recovered from Covid-19 were found to have antibodies in their bloodstream but it was not yet known for sure whether they would be immune from a second case of the disease or for how long the antibodies would last.
He said “we just haven’t had this disease around on the planet in humans for long enough” to know whether those who had recovered were immune.
And he said that antibodies produced in response to other human coronaviruses “don’t persist necessarily for years and years and years” although it was unknown what would happen in the case of Covid-19.
“We can’t make the science go any faster than how quickly our bodies go in terms of maintaining the antibodies,” he said.
“Like everybody else in the world we just have to be patient and cautious until we get those answers.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has recovered from coronavirus, said he was taking part in a trial to analyse patients’ antibodies, but said he would “not yet” feel happy being in a crowded room.
“I very much hope that the science shows that the people with antibodies, who have tested positive for having antibodies, have a low risk of transmitting the disease and a low risk of catching it – both are important, low risk of catching it to protect me, low risk of transmitting it to protect others.”
But he said “until we know that’s the case we can’t be sure of it, we can’t base a policy decision on it” and he could not be “comfortable” being in a crowd because “that might trigger a rise in the number of infections if the science turns out to be wrong”.
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