Bratislava, Slovakia – A few days after the government’s initial announcement, Slovakia started testing its sizable Roma community for coronavirus on Friday.
Slovakia to start large-scale Covid-19 testing in 33 Roma settlements
Prime Minister Igor Matovic announced earlier this week that the testing will be carried out by military doctors until next Thursday, April 9. Authorities will then decide on possible countermeasures to take if the results suggest the virus could be spreading in Roma settlements, including a possible quarantine enforced by the army.
According to the last census, Slovakia’s Roma community numbers at more than 100,000 – although real figures are believe to be much higher.
Slovakia’s decision to test the Roma community, largely concentrated in the country’s eastern half, for coronavirus was also prompted by the discovery that at least 1,500 Roma from 33 different settlements had lately returned from abroad but hadn’t self-isolated as legally required. The first results should be known on April 10.
“It is by no means a demonstration of power”, assured Matovic on Wednesday. “We just want to make use of doctors in uniform to start fast-testing in the settlements without further overloading the regular health system”, the Slovak PM said.
An entire Roma settlement located near the city of Gelnica in eastern Slovakia was already placed under lockdown after one of its members – a young man who eventually tested negative – failed to self-isolate and continued to move around upon his return from the U.K. The settlement should stay in quarantine at least until April 8.
A “ticking bomb” to be defused
“If we do not find out quickly how many people in the slums are infected, it will become a ticking bomb”, said Peter Marko, a general practitioner from eastern Slovakia, warning that the Roma community might initially be distrustful of the military’s involvement and that the possible death of some of its members could lead to an “unpredictable wave of panic”.
“It is important that we familiarize them with this and persuade them about what the reasons are to undergo this testing and what the significance of the testing is for them”, said Andrea Bučková, the Slovak government’s new plenipotentiary for Romani communities. “We are communicating with them in their own languages, in other words, in Romani or in Hungarian”.
Accounting for around 2% of Slovakia’s total population, the Roma community remains highly marginalized and faces deeply-rooted discrimination in many areas (healthcare, employment, education…). Large parts of the minority continue to live in slum conditions with poor hygienic conditions, making them all the more vulnerable to the Covid-19 disease and their settlements a dangerous breeding ground for the spread of the virus.
Due to the poor sanitary conditions in many Roma settlements in Slovakia, experts believe that coronavirus could lead to 20 additional cases per infected people.
Main photo credit: TASR