Slovakia tests two-thirds of its population in bid to avert Covid lockdown

Government says mass screening ‘a great leap forward’ despite doubts over accuracy of antigen tests

Local residents  queue at a school in Kosice, Slovakia,   during  national   testing for Covid-19. Photograph:   Zuzana Gogova/Getty Images

Local residents queue at a school in Kosice, Slovakia, during national testing for Covid-19. Photograph: Zuzana Gogova/Getty Images

 

Slovakia tested two-thirds of its entire population for coronavirus over the weekend, its government has announced, as it tries to employ targeted quarantine measures to avert an economically damaging national lockdown.

Prime minister Igor Matovic revealed on Monday that more than 3.6 million Slovaks took part in a voluntary testing programme on Saturday and Sunday, 38,359 of whom – equivalent to 1.06 per cent – received a positive result.

Soldiers, police, emergency workers and volunteers helped tens of thousands of medics conduct the tests across country of 5.4 million in a scheme that officials hope will help Slovakia control coronavirus and serve as an example to other states.

“We have made a great leap forward,” said Mr Matovic. “I deeply believe that this solution will work in Slovakia on the condition that those who received certification that they are negative will continue to act responsibly and those who got a positive result will remain in quarantine with their families.”

People who tested negative will be exempt from a national curfew and may show a certificate displaying their result to employers, shopkeepers and others who could request proof of coronavirus status before allowing entry to premises.

Slovaks who tested positive or declined to take part in the project must self-isolate for 10 days or risk being fined; children younger than 10 were not expected to take a test.

Mr Matovic insisted the scheme would help slow the spread of infection despite concerns over the use of antigen tests, which are cheaper and quicker but less accurate than so-called PCR tests.

Critics said the antigen tests could deliver many false positive results, forcing people without Covid-19 to quarantine, and false negative results that would allow infected people to go about their normal lives and potentially spread the virus.

“This could undermine public trust towards testing and all other pandemic containment measures,” Alexandra Brazinova, an epidemiologist at the medical faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava, told the medical journal the Lancet.

Rise in infections

Slovakia, which has registered 61,829 coronavirus cases and 219 associated deaths, has been alarmed by the precipitous rise in infections in neighbouring Poland and Czech Republic as Covid-19 strikes hard at most of central and eastern Europe.

Russia’s 1.66 million cases is the fourth highest national total in the world, and it confirmed another 18,257 infected people on Monday as concern grew over how the country’s poorer regions are coping with the virus.

Officials revealed that the number of Covid-19 cases is declining in only two of Russia’s 85 provinces, whereas the spread of the virus is accelerating in 33 regions. In the others the rate of new infections is either stable or slowing down.

They also said that about 85 per cent of the country’s 235,000 designated coronavirus hospital beds were now occupied.