By Radovan Stoklasa
ZILINA, Slovakia (Reuters) - Slovakia held a second round of nationwide coronavirus testing on Saturday in an effort to curb increasing infections, with more than half a million people screened by noon.
Last weekend, more than 3.6 million people - two thirds of the population - took part in the first round of a scheme that other nations are studying as they look for ways protect their health systems.
The government this time called on people from regions where more than 0.7% tested positive last weekend to repeat the procedure, testing in 45 out of 79 of the nation's counties.
Because Slovaks in areas with lower rates of infection - including the capital Bratislava - could voluntarily go for tests it was not clear how many would participate. The government had estimated that it could test up to 2.6 million people.
As of noon (1100 GMT), government data showed 553,377 had been tested with 3,677 positive results. Prime Minister Igor Matovic said the country now had a way to handle the epidemic.
"When we agree that we would want to have more freedom, to open theatres, churches ... we will know that we have this tool (to control the epidemic)," Matovic said.
The antigen test produces results in 15-30 minutes but is less accurate than the standard PCR tests.
Overall, Slovakia reported 2,579 COVID-19 cases on Saturday through PCR testing, bringing the total to 73,667, with 351 deaths.
Compared with other parts of Europe, Slovakia recorded relatively few cases after the pandemic started spreading in March but infections have soared in recent weeks. The government has warned the increase could overwhelm hospitals.
(Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa, Writing by Robert Muller, Editing by Michael Kahn and Giles Elgood)