STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Taxi driver Lars-Goran Goransson admits to feeling a little anxious each time he slips on a pair of latex gloves and gingerly lifts a COVID-19 test administered just moments earlier from a doorstep in a Stockholm suburb.
“I think this is a safe way to work, but yes, I am nervous about the virus,” said Goransson, 55, one of over 1,000 “corona cabbies” who now make a living ferrying COVID-19 swabs between homes and laboratory collection points in the Swedish capital.
Since the pandemic began, private hire taxi firms have home-delivered and collected more than a quarter of a million COVID-19 tests, an initiative that effectively puts cab drivers at the wheel of Stockholm’s testing regime.
It has thrown struggling cabbies a financial lifeline during the pandemic, allowing drivers to stay afloat until the time when people, rather than swabs, become their main passengers once again.
Under the initiative, run by the national health authority, cab drivers – many of them immigrants with a precarious foothold in the labour market – receive 320 crowns ($37) per hour, a bit more than a standard journey in central Stockholm.
Sweden, which bucked the international trend earlier this year of imposing a national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, was initially slow to roll out testing but ramped up its efforts over the summer.
Its coronavirus death toll to date is 6,555, a much higher per capita rate than in its Nordic neighbours though lower than in some larger European countries.
Goransson’s daily work routine now includes kneeling on doormats to collect the packaged swabs and liberally dosing his palms with hand sanitizer.
Usually, people get their result within 24 hours of a visit from a “corona cabby”, whom they may not even see as the pick-up aims to avoid close contact.
Goransson is proud to be assisting Sweden’s pandemic fight, saying fast testing can help curb the virus, but he misses the human contact.
“Normally this is a very social job,” he said wistfully. “I’ve been driving a taxi for about 20 years and the best part of it is meeting people.”
($1 = 8.5368 Swedish crowns)
(Reporting by Colm Fulton; editing by Niklas Pollard and Gareth Jones)