Slovak government sets plans for mass COVID-19 testing amid surge

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face mask as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreads in the area around Roma settlements, in Krompachy, Slovakia April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Slovak government on Sunday approved plans to use up to 8,000 armed forces personnel to support mass testing of the population for COVID-19 as it battles a surge of infections.

The country of 5.5 million wants to test people over the age of 10 over two weekends from Oct. 30 using so-called antigen tests, although it is still undecided whether the tests will be mandatory.

The government will launch a pilot phase in the most affected regions on Oct. 23, and it has ordered around 13 million antigen tests, which produce faster results but are often less accurate than standard PCR tests.

Medical personnel will carry out testing.

Slovakia has tightened restrictions, including banning indoor dining and closing many public venues, as it faces a bigger surge in cases than in the first wave of the pandemic, when it used strict lockdowns to keep the virus's spread relatively low compared to European neighbours.

It wants to avoid harsh lockdowns again after a costly economic hit in the second quarter. Prime Minister Igor Matovic said high testing turnout would help avoid this threat.

The country reported 1,567 new infections on Saturday and passed 2,000 cases in a single day for the first time on Thursday.

In total, cumulative cases have reached 29,835, almost triple the amount seen in late September. COVID-related deaths have grown by 44 so far in October, to 92.

(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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