Bratislava, Slovakia – “The eyes of Europe and the world are upon us”, said Prime Minister Igor Matovic as Slovakia’s mass-testing campaign for COVID-19 went underway this week-end.
The small Central European nation of 5.5 million inhabitants would become, if successful, the first country in the world of its size to test its entire adult population for the novel coronavirus. The authorities have presented the plan as the only solution to avoid a full lockdown as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.
Only micro-states, such as Luxembourg and Monaco, have managed to pull it off – although some countries, including China, have already conducted the mass-testing of entire districts or cities far exceeding the size of Slovakia’s population.
The ambitious plan unveiled by Prime Minister Matovic last month aims to test every Slovak above the age of 10 (almost four-fifths of the population) for COVID-19 twice over the course of two week-ends.
Foreign residents have also been encouraged to participate. While the rapid antigen testing is voluntary, anyone refusing to take part has to self-isolate for 10 days.
Described as “the army’s biggest logistical operation since the country became independent” by Slovak Defence Minister Jaro Nad, the testing is being carried out by more than 40,000 medical staff and soldiers scattered across the country.
Despite skeptics, including President Zuzana Caputova, arguing that the plan is “unfeasible” and puts added pressure on an already-strained healthcare sector, early figures seem to indicate that the population is widely cooperating and coming out in huge numbers, with nearly 2.6 million people already tested yesterday.
Approximately 1% of the tests were positive, with the districts of Zilina, Topolcany, Ruzomberok, and Presov appearing to be the most affected according to preliminary figures.
The experiment is seen as a case-study by many countries in Europe who are closely monitoring the latest developments in Slovakia.
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