Slovakia says COVID double-testing cut number of infections by more than half

Slovakia’s coronavirus testing and quarantine scheme, running over the past two weekends, has helped cut the proportion of infections by more than half, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Monday.

The country of 5.5 million tested 3.6 million people, excluding small children and some senior citizens, over the first weekend in November, with those testing positive having to go into quarantine. It repeated tests for just over 2 million over this past weekend when testing took place only in more affected areas, with the infection rate turning out to be much lower thanks to the earlier quarantine orders. The scheme has been watched by other countries struggling with a spike in coronavirus cases.

Taking into account districts that were tested on both weekends, the infection rate dropped from 1.47% on the first weekend to 0.62% of those who took the test on the second weekend, Matovic told a news conference. Including some additional tests done among police services, senior homes and companies, the second round returned 13,509 positive results.

“We are going into a tough winter,” Matovic said. “We have an extraordinarily effective tool in antigen testing that cuts the share of infected people by 58%.”

The testing was free and voluntary, but the government imposed a lockdown, including a ban on work commutes, on those who refused to take the test. People have to carry around certificates saying they took the test and tested negative. The scheme used antigen swab tests that return results within 15-30 minutes but are less accurate than standard laboratory PCR tests.The government has argued that while it was aware the tests may miss a sizeable proportion of those infected, it was still worth it and repeated testing narrowed that probability of falsely negative results.

Slovakia has not been among hardest-hit European countries, but it saw an acceleration of cases in October and hoped the testing would help it avoid a surge seen in the neighbouring Czech Republic, which has suffered Europe’s worst infection and death rates in the past weeks.

Slovakia has recorded 76,072 cases through standard PCR testing so far and 366 deaths. The antigen testing, including a pilot scheme and the two large-scale rounds, identified 57,462 cases.

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