Slovakia begins mass virus testing in global first

Slovakia on Saturday began a program to screen its entire population for coronavirus in what would be a global first but medical professionals have warned it could lead to an increase in cases.

Some 45,000 medical workers, army and police are being deployed to carry out the tests in the EU member state of 5.4 million people, collecting swabs at around 5,000 testing points.

Socially distanced queues could be seen forming in the streets of the capital Bratislava even before the points opened at 0600 GMT.

“The world will be watching,” Prime Minister Igor Matovic said this week.

He said the measure would save “hundreds of lives”.

The program will use antigen tests, which give quick results — something within minutes.

But antigen tests are not seen as being as reliable as the PCR test for which nasal and throat swabs have to be sent to a lab for analysis.

Participation in the testing is not mandatory but anyone who is not able to produce a negative test certificate if stopped by police could get a heavy fine.

Anyone who tests positive has to go immediately into quarantine for 10 days.

“This will be our road to freedom,” Matovic said, hinting that virus restrictions could be eased once testing is complete, or reinforced if the program is not carried out in full.

Slovakia would be the first country of its size to undergo nationwide testing, although mass testing has taken place in entire Chinese cities.

Smaller European states such as Luxembourg and Monaco have also announced mass testing programs. (AFP)