How Slovakia Can Control The COVID-19 Pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries faced struggles through their economical and healthcare systems. However, there was one country that can manage to control the COVID-19 pandemic on its border: Slovakia. In this article, we find out and examine the answer to the question “How did they reach success?”.
The first impact of and response to COVID-19 in Slovakia
Following the first wave of the pandemic, Slovakia quickly initiated lockdown and effectively adopted face masks. However, the second wave was more difficult to manage when the number of infected cases had quickly risen about 60000. Faced with these figures, the country responded by initiating another lockdown. Then, within two weeks it became the first European state to implement two-stage mass testing for the diagnosis of COVID-19. The program was set to take place within two consecutive weekends. The procedure involved the use of rapid antigen tests manufactured in South Korea delivering results within 10 to 30 minutes.
Throughout the first stage, Slovakia successfully tested 3.6 million of its inhabitants using rapid antigen tests. This number approximates two-thirds of its population. The results derived from the first weekend of testing showcased an infection prevalence of 1.06 %. Within the second stage, about 2 million people were tested. Testing is applied in the areas where a high prevalence of the infection was detected.
Testing was not obligatory, however, the individuals who refused to take the test should have isolated themselves obligatorily. In addition, those who tested negative received a certificate that allowed them to travel freely. The people who received a positive result had undergone a mandatory quarantine for 10 days mandatorily. It was stated that the quarantine may be abandoned after 10 days without the need for an additional test, or a negative result is given that the person did not contact a COVID-19 positive person and no clinical symptoms were observed within the last 3 days.
Perspective of authorities
Slovak authorities recognized that the lateral flow tests typically offered less accuracy than real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests. It is particularly regarding the detection of the infection in those with a low viral load. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing is also superior detection of those who are in the early stages, and asymptomatics. Indeed, while the test kits are undertaken by the campaign have reported high levels of sensitivity in general. However, one pre-print paper, in particular, had also reported a false-negative rate. On the other hand, the primary objective of the campaign was to reduce the transmission rate of the infection. and to efficiently start contact tracing by the detection of viral hotspots and the identification of cases with the highest epidemiological risk.
Moreover, there has been a recommendation that the citizens re-participate in the second round of testing. It is valid in the case that the lateral flow test failed to detect the infection on the grounds that the infection had been in its early stages during the first round of testing.
Overall, the campaign was able to reach 95% of its targeted population. The number excluded children younger than 10 years along with people older than 65 years. Official reports illustrate that the program detected 57,500 new COVID-19 positive cases in total. In addition, a pilot scheme set in the north of Slovakia identified that COVID-19 positive cases decreased by 60%. This dramatic decrease was in between the two stages of testing. Indeed, a subsequent report showed that the reproduction rate of the virus within the country varied between 0.7 and 0.9.
Additional strategies for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic
Along with the national testing campaign, Slovakia also implemented significant supportive measures. Accordingly, quarantine converted accommodation was provided for those who could not self-isolate within their homes. Further, the workers who had to take time off due to a positive test result had their compensation. Along with the costs of testing and supportive policies, this two-stage testing campaign had constituted a logistical challenge for Slovakia. The program required the establishment of nearly 5000 testing sites. It also involved 40000 healthcare workers comprised of military and civilian medical personnel. In fact, in order to fulfill this requirement, Slovakia also needed from its neighboring countries. Slovakia recruited Hungarian and Austrian medical personnel to help support the operation of the testing procedure.
At the end of the story
Despite these challenges, the implementation of this mass testing program furthered efficient hotspot detection and contact testing. Combined with restrictive measures, nationwide testing helped Slovakia to limit the reproduction rate of the virus to 0.7 and 0.9, which prevented the exponential growth in COVID-19 infection. This lower infection rate, in turn, has enabled the country to flatten its pandemic curves. In consequence, after declaring and conducting this mass testing program, Slovakia achieved one of the lowest death rates in Europe and facilitated the gradual reopening of its economy and public life. Altogether, Slovak-style mass testing proved to be a successful campaign regarding the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. As it constitutes the first of its kind in Europe, the Slovak mass testing campaign has gained further significance as an exemplary policy within Europe.
Life in Slovakia slowly comes back to the regular pace today. The reopening of small stores started firstly within hotels, restaurants, and hairstylists. If its rate of infection continues to be modest, sports events and schools are not far behind. What is noteworthy is that this is not a particularly wealthy country with a robust national health care system nor was it particularly well-positioned to deal with a pandemic first.
Role of rapid antigen tests
In the case of Slovakia, we can see how important mass screening is and how rapid antigen test kits are suitable for this purpose. The advantages of rapid antigen tests such as fast results, cost-effectiveness, and simplified procedure are building blocks of the Slovak success in the control of the COVID-19 pandemic. The screening of positive patients from COVID-19 by means of rapid antigen testing might thus be a key element in limiting the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to crowded places such as schools, homes of worship, office buildings, clinics, labs, airlines, and hotels. Rapid antigen testing in rural locations with limited access and districts with inadequate access to healthcare may also be beneficial for screening.