Covid-19 Testing for Most of a Nation Backfires on Slovak Leader

When Slovakia’s prime minister unleashed what he called his “nuclear” option against Covid-19 in October, he thought it would tamp down the disease, save the economy and, possibly, boost his image as a hands-on problem solver.

Instead, the plan backfired.

Almost a month after he launched the world’s first operation to test almost all of his country’s 5.5 million citizens, the popularity of Igor Matovic’s ruling party has plunged in opinion polls and his government hasn’t been able to ease lockdown restrictions.

A Focus poll on Sunday showed Matovic’s Ordinary People party in second place with 14%, behind the Voice party of former Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini and down from 25% when he scored a surprise victory in February elections.

“I trust our voters: They are wise people who realize we are living in very difficult times,” Matovic said Sunday in a debate on TV Markiza. ”Three months before the elections, pollsters were saying we wouldn’t be in parliament, and at the end we won. I take polls with a grain of salt.”

Covid-19 Testing for Most of a Nation Backfires on Slovak Leader

His credibility has taken a hit, though. Another survey by the AKO pollster for Trend weekly showed that 56% of Slovaks don’t trust his statements about the coronavirus.

The prime minister -- a charismatic businessman and former newspaper publisher -- is no exception among leaders around the world who have suffered in the polls as death tolls rise and economies suffer under social-distancing measures.

Covid-19 Testing for Most of a Nation Backfires on Slovak Leader

Slovakia is also less affected by the disease than most other European Union nations. But even though the government tested about two thirds of the population for Covid-19 -- identifying 51,000 new cases during two weekends o testing in October and November -- lockdown restrictions are still in place.

The seven-day median of daily infections is hovering above 1,500, double the threshold that would allow the government to lift its partial ban on restaurants and some schools from opening. On Nov. 17, a state holiday commemorating the fall of communism, thousands of Slovaks protested despite a ban on mass gatherings.

“People went to get tested because they were promised that it will get better,” said Martin Slosiarik, director of Bratislava, Slovakia-based Focus. “But they don’t see any positive effects of the testing, any relaxation of restrictions.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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