In reversal, Chile says coronavirus release certificates will not prove immunity

FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Santiago

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile will move forward with coronavirus "release certificates," but the documents will not yet certify immunity, the country´s top health official said Wednesday, marking a reversal after weeks of global debate on whether recovered patients develop resistance to the virus.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich said officials in the South American nation would begin issuing certificates early next week to any person who has finished a mandatory quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus on a standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

"Once the respective quarantine is completed, we will provide...a release certificate, but we will not make any pronouncement with respect to immunity," Manalich said.

Manalich earlier this week said a patient who had contracted the disease was immune for "a minimum of three months," contradicting guidance from the World Health Organization, which says there is no evidence for such claims.

Manalich walked backed his previous statements at a Wednesday briefing with reporters, saying the global debate over the strength and duration of immunity had forced him to reconsider.

"Until this is clarified worldwide, we do not want to make any statements in advance regarding the level of immunity that a person has," Manalich said.

Chile has been widely praised for its approach to combating the coronavirus, including widespread testing, flexible region-specific quarantines and quick action to secure additional ventilators for its hospitals.

The country has confirmed nearly 15,000 cases of the viral infection and 216 related deaths since the outbreak began there in early March.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Aurora Ellis)