Slovakia on Saturday begins a programme to screen its entire population for coronavirus with antigen tests in what would be a global first, but critics have said the plan is poorly thought out.
Some 45,000 medical workers, army and police are being deployed to carry out the tests in the EU member state of 5.4 million people, collecting swabs at around 5,000 testing points.
“The world will be watching,” Prime Minister Igor Matovic said earlier this week, adding that the measure would save “hundreds of lives”.
Antigen tests give quick results — sometimes within minutes — but are not seen as being as reliable as the PCR test for which nasal swabs have to be sent to a lab for analysis.
Participation in the testing is not mandatory but anyone who is not able to produce a negative test certificate if stopped by police could get a heavy fine.
Anyone who tests positive has to go immediately into quarantine for 10 days.
“This will be our road to freedom,” Matovic said, hinting that virus restrictions could be eased once testing is complete or reinforced if the programme is not carried out in full.
Slovakia would be the first country of its size to undergo nationwide testing, although mass testing has taken place in entire Chinese cities.
Smaller European states such as Luxembourg and Monaco have also announced mass testing programmes.