Slovakia's mass testing: a success?
Last week we explained to you how mass coronavirus testing was kicking off in Liverpool, one of the UK's cities hit hardest by the pandemic. The goal is to screen all 500,000 people who live in and around the city, and isolate those who test positive. It's an attempt to get on top of the problem that more than half of coronavirus cases have no symptoms and are therefore being missed by the present testing process. It's also potentially a dry run for testing the entire UK population at a later date. One country that have already had a stab at this over the last two weeks is Slovakia; Beata Balogová is the editor in chief of Daily SME, one of the country's major news publications, and Chris Smith heard what she made of it…
Beata - First, the whole country was tested a week ago. The reason was that the government got quite nervous about the state of hospitals, and they thought that it's a good idea to test the entire population to see how widely spread the virus is. And then they repeated a second testing for those regions which came out as the most infected in the first day of testing
Chris - And people who were tested, what was then done to them? If they got a positive result, how was their case handled?
Beata - They had to self isolate for 10 days, but perhaps it's interesting and important to say that even people who refused to undergo testing, they had to self isolate. So it means that the testing wasn't voluntary as the government stated originally, but they wanted to make sure they isolated a large mass of people who either refuse to undergo testing, or have a positive test result.
Chris - There's about 5 million people in the country, in Slovakia, is that right?
Beata - Yes, it's slightly above 5 million.
Chris - So how did they do testing at that sort of scale; and not once, but twice?
Beata - First, they managed to test 3.6 million people, and they were able to do it only with the help of the army, and the willingness of physicians and healthcare employees. Logistically, it was a very huge and demanding thing and it's a great strain on healthcare.
Chris - What was the reaction of the population? How did the population react to being told, "this is what we're going to do"?
Beata - They were quite disciplined. Part of the population was frustrated by the fact that it's claimed to be voluntary, but it wasn't. They just had to undergo the testing, because otherwise they would not be able to go to work, even to do normal shopping, because now even shop owners are entitled to ask for a certificate that you were tested negative. During the actual testing they were surprisingly disciplined. And at some places there were three hour queues and people were lining up, and really waiting patiently to get tested.
Chris - Out of a country with about 5 million people, if three and a half million-ish got tested, what's happened to the other one and a half million? Were they objectors who didn't want to get tested, or were they just lost to follow up?
Beata - Some of them were elderly - the government said that they did not recommend people over 65 to undergo testing, unless they really needed to move around - but also there are people who simply didn't undergo the testing. And during the second testing, they tested 1.8 million people, and these were the people who are from the affected regions from the north.
Chris - And what's been the outcome of doing these two sets of testing? And what are they going to do now to try to keep a lid on things?
Beata - Well, if we don't want to trust the government - which is saying it's a big success, and that basically they managed to push down the infection rate by 58% between the two testings - we really have to wait for what the experts say. However, on the daily infection rates, which we are getting, we can see a slight drop; but you cannot really tell if it is because of the government measures, or if it is really the result of the testing. So we will have to wait a couple more weeks to really be able to say that if it is a good idea - turning your country into a laboratory.