• RJ Smith

I Took a Serological Test for Covid-19

There was a strange moment just before the lockdown began here in Paris. It was Saturday night. I was at a bar on the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette. There was a note of tension to the air, the sense that history was casting its shadow over us.

My friends and I were speculating about what was to come next. Italy was locked down. So was Spain. Fist fights were breaking out over toilet paper in Australia and the USA.

In France cases of coronavirus were skyrocketing. Drastic measures were sure to be taken. Many had begun practising social distancing already.

A car pulled up at the traffic lights beside our table. The two women inside looked out at what was ordinarily a typical scene in this part of Paris. Tables of people chatting and smoking. Partaking of the joie de vivre for which the city is well known.

Yet they shook their heads in dismay as they took in the tableau before them. They were not looking at citizens or patrons but culprits and knaves. The irresponsible ones. The Super Spreaders with the blood of the vulnerable on their hands.

As an aside I must say I do not understand this argument. If I go out to socialise I am only endangering those who have voluntarily accepted the same risk as me. I give old people wide berth in the street and wash my hands frequently before touching things others may come into contact with and wear a mask in the metro as I am required to.

Those measures aside, I have taken every opportunity to live my life during and since the lockdown and will continue to do so come what may.

So when I entered the clinic on the Avenue Bosquet for a serological test for Covid-19 antibodies a few days ago I expected to receive news that I was a carrier of the killer virus and immune from reinfection.

Given my behaviour, the fact that Paris is a coronavirus hotspot and that I had symptoms for a few days back in March this seemed to me a given.

I was wrong. In fact I have far below the requisite number of antibodies to be immune from reinfection.

From these results it seems either I was infected and the antibodies have left my body or I never had the virus. The first possibility would mean the virus gives little or no long (or even medium) term immunity. The second that it is less contagious than many of us thought.

I believe the former is more likely (In a piece on the Spectator today, Rupert Beale, a senior scientist at the Francis Crick Institute, says:

...for patients who have only mild, or indeed no, symptoms of Covid-19, they will probably not develop a strong and lasting enough immune response to prevent reinfection in several months’ time.

Dr Beale does suggest, however, that those who have been infected once will probably suffer less severe symptoms the second time around, and has high hopes a vaccine will become available within 18 months.

Again, I am not a scientist, but this seems to me highly optimistic. No such treatment has ever being developed for a coronavirus despite the best efforts of many, and the fastest vaccine ever produced and made widely available (for mumps) took no less than four years.

If a vaccine cannot be developed, we may have to accept that most of us will catch the virus at some point and do our best to support (I do not use the word protect; people should be free to do their own risk assessment and respond as they see fit) those we know are at risk of hospitalisation or early death.

The rest of us should take reasonable measures such as washing our hands and wearing a mask in enclosed spaces. That's what I plan to do until the police state dystopia of check-points, immuno-passports for liberty and mass electronic surveillance resumes. I'm negative after all.

© 2020 RJ Smith.