Slovakia's blanket COVID-19 testing may prevent tighter lockdown, PM says

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EU leaders summit in Brussels
EU leaders summit in Brussels

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovakia may be able to avoid harsher anti-coronavirus measures as a result of its plans for nationwide testing scheduled to start this weekend, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Monday.

Authorities conducted pilot testing in four badly hit regions over the weekend with more than 90% of people participating, producing an infection rate just below 4% of those tested.

The country will conduct wide-ranging testing over the next two weekends.

"Today, we had only two options, either general testing, or complete lockdown," Matovic told reporters after a meeting of the government's Central Crisis Committee.

"It is a solution with which, when we do it together, we have the chance to avoid a complete lockdown and save hundreds of lives," Matovic said.

As of Monday, the country of 5.5 million had reported 45,155 cases, while 165 people had died.

Slovakia has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases this month like most of Europe and its plan to test most of the population will be closely watched by other countries.

Slovakia wants to avoid the harsh shutdown measures deployed in the initial wave of the outbreak in the spring, which pushed the economy into a sharp contraction.

The country has imposed a partial lockdown requiring people to stay home apart from work, essential shopping and nature trips, and has closed indoor dining at restaurants and shut venues like pools, fitness clubs or theatres.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Giles Elgood)