Slovakia's mass coronavirus testing attracts tens of thousands

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FILE PHOTO: Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Nizna

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovakia's pilot testing in coronavirus hotspots attracted tens of thousands people over the weekend, showing an infection rate of 3.87%, government data showed on Sunday.

The government plans to widen the scope to the whole country next weekend and hopes the antigen tests, along with a partial lockdown, can help curbing a sharp rise in infections.

Slovakia's testing campaign to cover most of its population and its results will likely draw the attention of other countries, including the neighbouring Czech Republic, which has been struggling with Europe's fastest surge of the epidemic.

As of 5:00 p.m. local time (1600 GMT), health workers had done 136,904 tests with 5,298 positive results, the government's website showed.

The tests were administered between Friday and Sunday at around 235 sites in four northern regions that are home to about 180,000 people.

In some locations, many people even showed up who live outside the designated regions, local media reported.

"Thanks to the effort of all the involved staff and the responsibility of people who participated, the pilot phase of the country-wide testing has proven successful," Prime Minister Igor Matovic's party OLANO said.

The government offered an incentive to take part in the tests, offering less stringent rules to those with negative results, while those not participating face a stricter lockdown regime including a ban on commuting to work.

President Zuzana Caputova has questioned the idea of sanctions slapped on those not participating in tests declared as voluntary.

In the regular tests done since the pandemic started, Slovakia reported a record 3,042 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, bringing the total number of infections to 43,843.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Daniel Wallis)