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Slovakia tested most of the country in two days

As countries around the world struggle to scale up their coronavirus testing, Slovakia managed to test more than 3.6 million people -- two thirds of its population -- in just two days.

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Two-thirds of Slovakia’s population of 5.4 million people were tested for coronavirus over the weekend as part of a programme aimed at making it one of the first countries to test its entire population.

The European country decided to embark on the gargantuan quest to test everyone over the age of 10 after Covid-19 cases started spiking last month. Dubbed operation “Joint responsibility,” the program was the first attempt at large-scale blanket testing in Europe.
Just over 1% of those taking part tested positive, about 38,359 people in total, according to the official website of the program.

The program was first piloted on October 23 in Orava and Bardejov, two regions with the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the country. Nearly 141,000 people, 91% of those who were eligible, got tested in the two regions over the three days of the pilot.
In the rest of the country, the testing took place simultaneously on Saturday and Sunday. The government encouraged everyone older than 10 to take part in the voluntary program. People older than 65 years who spend most of their time at home, people with disabilities, cancer patients, immunocompromised people and other vulnerable groups were exempt.

Antigen tests were carried out on 3.625 million people – of whom 38,359, or 1.06%, were found to be positive.

“We have made a great leap forward,” the prime minister, Igor Matovič, told reporters.

“But we should not think that because of this 1%, now all is fine. It is not,” he added. “In reality, up to 2% of our inhabitants might be infected. It is not at all a good situation.”

Antigen tests give far quicker results than PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) tests, which involve nasal swabs that have to be sent to a laboratory, but they are less reliable.

A further round of tests has been scheduled for next weekend.

Participation is not mandatory but anyone who is not able to produce a negative test certificate if stopped by police could be fined. Anyone who tests positive will have to go immediately into quarantine for 10 days.

Slovakia wants to be one of the first countries in the world to test its entire population. Smaller countries such as Luxembourg have already done so, as have some Chinese cities with larger populations than Slovakia, such as Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated from.

The government has hinted that virus restrictions could be eased once testing is complete, or reinforced if the programme is not carried out in full.

Like other countries, Slovakia has seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, although it is still below the EU average. On Monday, it reported 1,883 new cases, bringing the tally to 61,829.

A total of 219 people in Slovakia have died from the virus.

The programme has come under criticism for being poorly thought through, however. The Slovak Association of General Practitioners said the high concentration of people at testing sites was “at odds with the recommendations of infectious disease experts”.

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