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Health

Staff shortages threaten Slovakia's blanket COVID-19 test plan

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Shortages of medical staff are threatening a widely-watched scheme to test nearly all of Slovakia’s 5.5 million-strong population for COVID-19 this weekend, the prime minister said on Friday.

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The premier, Igor Matovic, called for a last push to make it work. President Zuzana Caputova, who had voiced reservations about the plan, called on authorities to step back and ease pressure on people to participate.

The nationwide programme - which has drawn attention from countries trying to find ways to fight a resurgence of infections across Europe - is voluntary. But anyone without evidence of a negative result will have to go into lockdown next week.

Matovic has said it will identify a large proportion of infected people, slow the spread of the epidemic and help avoid wider restrictions.

But he said on Friday more than a third of testing teams did not have enough personnel.

“Let’s show ... that in this decisive moment we can pull together and make this,” he said in a post on Facebook. “Otherwise the only thing that remains in our hands is a total lockdown.”

The govenrment has already offered medics a 500-euro ($590) bonus on top of earlier agreed compensation if they work this weekend.

The plan is to use antigen tests that can return results within 15-30 minutes but are less accurate than standard PCR tests. Young children are exempt.

President Zuzana Caputova said it was now clear that hundreds of thousands of people would not have access to the tests.

“I demand an end to the division of people into those who have a pass to freedom and the others who have not managed to be tested,” she said.

The country has recorded 55,091 COVID-19 cases and 212 deaths, with a sharp acceleration in recent weeks.

($1 = 0.8461 euros)

Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Editing by Michael Kahn and Andrew Heavens

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