Slovakia to deploy army to test population of 5.5m for Covid-19

Matthew Day
·2-min read
Hundreds of football hooligans and far-right supporters protest the government's precautionary measures - VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP via Getty Images
Hundreds of football hooligans and far-right supporters protest the government's precautionary measures - VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP via Getty Images

Slovakia is to use thousands of soldiers and firefighters to help test the entire population for coronavirus in an effort to stem the spread of the virus, and avoid another national lockdown.

The Central European country once had one of Europe’s best records for containing the coronavirus but it has seen infection rates soar in recent weeks, with 2,202 people testing positive on October 20.

The government has announced it now intends to open over 5,000 sites across the country to test the country’s population of 5.45 million.

Each centre will be staffed by a team of seven, a requirement that means the government will call up firefighters, police officers and up to 8,000 soldiers to help conduct the tests, which will be free of charge and available to anyone living in Slovakia.

“It’s important that as many people as possible are tested,” Igor Matovic, the Slovakian prime minister, said at a press conference. “We have two options: one is lockdown, the other is nationwide testing.

“If we don’t put the handbrake on, we’ll reach the point at which the Czech Republic is now, or the Italian city of Bergamo was in the spring, and we’ll have to make decisions on whom to save and whom to allow to die in the end,” warned the prime minister.

At the moment it remains unclear whether the government will make the tests mandatory, but at the moment appears to be intent on cajoling people to get tested with the threat of a spell in quarantine.

“People who cannot provide a test [result], either from state testing or from a test they have taken privately will be quarantined for the next 10 days,” said Mr Matovic.

Opinion polls show that the majority of Slovaks support the plans for mass testing.

A poll published in the newspaper Hospodarske Noviny found that 44 per cent of people would take part in blanket testing, while a further 28 per cent said they would probably participate.

Only 10.7 per cent said they would refuse to take part. A pilot phase of testing will be carried out this weekend in areas of Slovakia that have been hit hard by the coronavirus, and nationwide testing will begin Oct 30.