“Sweden is a catastophe,” the nurse Mohammed complained as he adeptly and painlessly pierced the vein in my left arm.
He shook his hand like a pendulum. “Last week, they said 'we are now offering coronavirus tests'. Then today they told us 'stop'. After today, no more appointments'.”
I was at a private doctor's practice in Malmö getting one of the first coronavirus antibody tests in Sweden, which are now being offered privately by the Stockholm firm Werlabs.
When Werlabs announced last week that it could now offer as many as 100,000 coronavirus antibody tests a week, I jumped online and booked immediately.
I want my 70-plus mother-in-law to stay at one of our caravans in the woods this summer, and 750 kronor seemed a small price to pay for some assurance she would be safe. Scientists still don't know what kind of immunity coronavirus antibodies provide, because it's a new disease. So researchers are working to find out if having the antibody does provide you with immunity, and if so, what level of immunity and for how long.
I'm also just curious.
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I'm pretty sure we've had it. In mid-March, my wife and I went to a pizza party. The day after, the husband of one of the women there got a positive coronavirus diagnosis. Then she got ill. Then every other adult who attended the party did.
While I just had a temperature for a few days, an aching body, and some possibly imagined lung pain, my wife was completely out of action for two weeks.
Richard Orange lives in the southern Swedish city of Malmö. Photo: Private
Werlab's tests are produced by the American pharmaceutical company Abbott, approved by the European Medicines Agency, and, they claim, 99 percent accurate. False negatives are less likely than false positives.
According to Mohammed his clinic was fully booked from the day the tests were announced last Wednesday. “Many, many people want this test. Many. We are having 50 yesterday, 50 today.”
If I turn out to have antibodies, this will mean that I was, as I suspect, a victim of virus-spattered pizza.
Booking did not go smoothly. After I paid online, I was given the name and number for Blomman vårdcentral, a chain of private doctors in Malmö, and told to book an appointment.
But when I left a message, a man called back to say they didn't offer antibody tests. Bemused, I tried again and left a message with Blomman's other Malmö clinic and eventually got a call back offering me an appointment this week.
In doing this, I've ignored the advice of the Public Health Agency, which has said the tests risked causing problems by changing people's behaviour and advises against using the tests as a way of assessing how you should behave.
“They can show which people have antibodies,” the state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell conceded to the TT newswire on the day of Werlabs' announcement.
“The question is what these antibodies mean for how an individual can behave, and the risks for the individual and their environment. This is where knowledge in the world is not really there yet.”
As the first wave of coronavirus infections tails off, populations worldwide are showing lower levels of antibodies, and perhaps less immunity, than most expected. That's also the case in Sweden.
My wife also feels that by going private, I and others like me are making it harder for the public health authorities to source tests should they decide in the end to offer them more widely.
Currently, it is only possible to get an antibody test through the public healthcare system if your doctor refers you for one. Otherwise, people like me can turn to pharmacy chains or other private options for the antibody tests.
Meanwhile, a half-hour train trip across the Øresund in Denmark, after all, anyone who wants one can get a throat or nose swab to check if they have an active coronavirus infection. You don't even need a doctor's note.
Admittedly, the Danish health authorities aren't yet offering antibody tests.
Werlabs have promised me a result in two to four days.
It is then that I will have to decide whether to heed the second part of Tegnell's warning.
If I test positive, can I then encourage my mother-in-law to come down to stay with us a little more forcefully?