Slovakia mobilises as bid to COVID-test most of country in 2 days begins

TRENCIN, Slovakia, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Long queues formed outside coronavirus testing centres in Slovakia on Saturday, as the country embarked on a bid to test most of the country’s 5.5 million inhabitants over a single weekend.

Up to 20,000 medics plus support teams including soldiers staffed around 5,000 sites to administer the antigen swab tests.

“We didn’t think twice, we were clear since the beginning we would go even if we didn’t have to,” said Katarina Hegerova, 73, after lining up with her husband in drizzle for over an hour at a site outside Trencin, a city north of the capital Bratislava.

Slovak media reported similarly long queues at other sites.

Authorities say the ambitious plan to slow the infection’s spread by testing most citizens aged 10 and over in just two days is the biggest of its kind in a country of comparable size.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic has said he hopes it will avert a strict lockdown, by identifying large numbers of infected individuals and quarantining them.

Slovakia reported 2,573 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday through molecular PCR testing, raising the total to 57,664, with 219 deaths.

The faster antigen test being administered nationwide this weekend gives results in just 30 minutes but is less accurate than the PCR method.

The testing is free and voluntary, but the government will impose lockdowns on people who do not participate.

Matovic said that as of 9 a.m. on Saturday, 97% of the testing teams were complete.

“Everyone who wants to take part in testing will be served. Do not go to sites where long lines form... They will be empty in late afternoon and tomorrow,” he said on Facebook.

Opponents of the scheme have questioned whether it makes sense given the time and resources involved, and possible large numbers of false results.

A second round of testing is planned for a week’s time, to catch those errors, and for people who miss out this weekend or get infected in the interim. (Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa; Writing by Jan Lopatka; editing by John Stonestreet)