Slovakia: As countries around the world continue to witness COVID cases, European country Slovakia has managed to test more than 3.6 million people- two-thirds of its population- in just two days as the government hopes that it will help reverse a surge in infections without a hard lockdown.
The European country decided to embark on the gargantuan quest to test everyone over the age of 10 after COVID cases started spiking last month. Dubbed operation “Joint responsibility,” the program was the first attempt at large-scale blanket testing in Europe, international media reported.
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 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.
Quoting government officials, CNN World reported that it was considering running a second round of the mass testing later this month, but no decision has been made yet.
The Slovak program used rapid antigen tests which provide results in minutes. Unlike the molecular diagnostic (PCR) tests, antigen tests don’t have to be processed in a lab, so they are faster and cheaper. But they can also be less reliable. While the PCR tests look for the virus’ genetic material, the antigen test looks for pieces of protein from the virus.
The report added that the Slovak military has been in charge of the testing campaign which required the deployment of 40,463 staff, including 14,500 health workers and 6,319 armed forces personnel, to nearly 5,000 testing locations across the country.
The testing was voluntary, but those who decided to skip it will have to continuously comply with stricter coronavirus restrictions and will not be allowed to leave their homes unless they are carrying out one of a few narrowly-defined exempt activities until Sunday.
Those who tested negative no longer have to comply with the strictest restrictions as long as they can prove their negative status with an official certificate, the report said quoting officials saying.
People who tested positive now have to quarantine — either at home or in one of the dozens of designated hotels across the country.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic on Sunday praised those who were involved in the program. “Village and city mayors, civil servants, village or city deputies, soldiers, state, city, and local police, firefighters and paramedics, health care workers, volunteers, and all of you, people of goodwill, who did your part this weekend and decided to fight for the health of our most vulnerable,” Matovic said in a Facebook post.
Meanwhile, the global tally of coronavirus cases stands at 47,284,293. While 33,982,192 have recovered, 1,210,378 have died so far. The US, the worst-hit country, has 9,554,646 cases, and 236,880 have died from the disease there. It is followed by India, which has 8,267,623 cases, Brazil (5,554,206) and Russia (1,655,038).