Slovakia Goes Ahead With Mass Virus Testing After Pilot Run

Slovakia will press ahead with nationwide Covid-19 testing this weekend after a pilot in the most affected regions drew almost all citizens and allowed thousands of infected to isolate.

This past weekend, the army tested 140,945 people in four counties using rapid antigen tests. That was a turnout of 91% with a 4% infection rate, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said Monday. The results suggest testing at a nationwide scale is justified and the country is ready to do so this weekend, he said.

The pilot’s success is a vindication for Prime Minister Igor Matovic, who announced the plan nine days ago with fanfare as a globally unique project. He acted despite the recommendations of some scientists who questioned the feasibility and efficiency of such an unprecedented exercise.

The country, which was among the most successful in Europe in containing the pandemic in spring, registered 1,312 new infections on Sunday. So far, a total of 165 people have died in the country of 5.5 million, where hospitals are filling up with Covid-19 patients.

Yet epidemiologists say that given the inaccuracy of the rapid tests, the government should follow up with accelerated PCR testing and contact tracing. The government has admitted that tests used are able to detect infection in 30%-40% of cases, depending on the virus load in the body, so the actual infection rate may be three times higher than reported.

“While intriguing, it requires an imaginative testing strategy,” said Eva Schernhammer, head of the epidemiology department at the Vienna Medical University. “A single rapid test won’t do much good unless it’s embedded in such planned testing regimes which take advantage of various kinds of tests.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.