In a world’s first Slovakia is testing the whole nation for COVID-19

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In a world's first Slovakia is testing the whole nation for COVID-19 - We The World
Image courtesy of The Slovak Spectator via Twitter

Slovakia is testing approximately 4.4 million inhabitants for the novel coronavirus, in what is being called a first time drill in the world by any country stuck by the pandemic.

Although mass testings have taken place in Chinese cities, involving more population than Slovakia, this is the first time a nation of this size is approaching the exercise.

The Slovakia government will attempt to test the entire adult population in two weekends.

Earlier, the nation launched a pilot testing scheme on October 23, which went on to become COVID-19 hotspots after people had to wait for hours in long queues.

“The world will be watching,” Prime Minister Igor Matovic said earlier this week, announcing the move, claiming that this will help the nation save thousands of lives.

The European Union member state would collect millions of swabs from the citizens through 5000 testing points, where some 45,000 medical workers, army, and police will conduct the mammoth drill to collect the swab samples.

However, critics have pointed out that the nation’s exercise to test all its citizens is not correctly executed and pose a threat of a superspreader event. Earlier pilot projects proved to be counter-effective in preventing the infections.

The method adopted by Slovakia will be the Antigen testing, which yields results in a few munites, compared to the PCR test that takes days but is the gold standard when it comes to COVID-19 testing.

Scientists, including the WHO, condemn the use of Antigen tests for mass-testing alongside PCR tests, for its higher false-negative test results which tend to dilute the actual scene.

The Prime Minister also tipped for possible ease of virus-related lockdown in the nation following the tests are completed, France 24 reports.

But COVID-19 cases in the country have risen by thousands a day in what is being said to be the second wave spread in Europe. In Summer, the nation relatively succeeded in containing the spread, bringing it as low as below 100s.

On Friday, Slovakia reported 3,363 new daily infections, totaling to 57,664 cases, with 219 deaths.

Testing will be not mandatory, but people who cannot show a negative result if countered by police would be liable to heavy fines. Those who test positive must quarantine for 10 days immediately.

However, the plan has met with descent from the nation’s President Zuzana Caputova, who said the plan may not be ‘feasible’ and has called for a rethought on the same.

The country has also struggled to gather enough medical workers to staff the huge operation. France 24 reported that the state was forced to monetarily compensate doctors to participate in the drill.

Despite all the preparations, 30% of the staff is still missing who’s needed to carry the mass-testing, the defense minister said adding that this is the nation’s biggest army logistical challenge since the country became independent, the BBC reports.

Vladimir Leksa, an immunologist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences and the Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, told The Lancet that, “there are some serious risks to this”.

Alexandra Brazinova, an epidemiologist at the Medical Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava, told The Lancet: “there are many risks: not communicating properly to the public the aim and process of the testing could create misunderstanding, frustration, fear, and opposition”. 

She also highlighted the drill comes with its own logistical challenges, including the risk of the spread of the virus amid many people working together. “This could undermine public trust towards testing and all other pandemic containment measures”, she explained.

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