Slovakia on Saturday became the world’s first country to launch a programme for screening its entire population for novel coronavirus. Around 5000 testing points have been set up in the country of 5.4 million for collecting swabs to conduct tests.
The programme will use antigen tests, which give results within minutes. However, this testing method is not seen as being as reliable as the PCR test for which results take much longer.
Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 has to go immediately into quarantine for 10 days.
Participation in the testing is not mandatory but anyone who is not able to produce a negative test certificate if stopped by police could get a heavy fine.
“The world will be watching,” Prime Minister Igor Matovic said this week. He said the measure would save “hundreds of lives”.
“This will be our road to freedom,” Matovic said, hinting that virus restrictions could be eased once testing is complete, or reinforced if the programme is not carried out in full.
Like other EU countries, Slovakia has witnessed a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. On Friday, it reported 3,363 new daily infections, followed by 2,573 on Saturday. The total now stands at 57,664, with 219 deaths.
The government is hoping to complete the nationwide testing over two days and carry out another round of mass tests next weekend.
The programme however has come under criticism with the Slovak Association of General Practitioners saying the government was ill-prepared.
It also said that “mass concentration of millions of people” at testing sites “is at odds with the recommendations of infectious disease experts to reduce public contacts and mobility as much as possible.”