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Only a tiny proportion of the global population – maybe as few as 2% or 3% – appear to have antibodies in the blood showing they have been infected with Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization, a finding that bodes ill for hopes that herd immunity will ease the exit from lockdown.

“Easing restrictions is not the end of the epidemic in any country,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a media briefing in Geneva on Monday. “So-called lockdowns can help to take the heat out of a country’s epidemic.”

But serological testing to find out how large a proportion of the population have had infection and developed antibodies to it – which it is hoped will mean they have some level of immunity – suggest that the numbers are low.

“Early data suggests that a relatively small percentage of the expanded may have been infected,” Tedros said. “Not more than 2% -3%.”

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