PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday he aimed to offer free antigen testing for COVID-19 by Christmas for any citizens who want it.
The Czech Republic has been one of the worst-hit countries in Europe in the second wave of the pandemic but COVID-19 infections are falling after weeks of lockdown measures and the government lowered its risk level on Monday.
The country has already started using targeted antigen testing — which is faster and logistically easier than standard PCR tests but not as accurate — in homes for the elderly.
“I would very much like us to meet this challenge to allow all citizens, at least a week or 10 days before Christmas, to be able to be tested voluntarily and for free with antigen tests,” Babis said.
Voluntary mass testing could be part of a strategic plan the Health Ministry is preparing, he added.
Neighbouring Slovakia has already carried out millions of antigen tests in a campaign at the start of November that covered most of its population. Those that did not take the test were required to go into quarantine.
Czech testing would have no conditions attached, Babis said.
The risk level was moved on Monday from the fifth, or highest, rung on the government’s coronavirus danger scale, to the fourth. That means restaurants, some schools and most shops remain closed but may reopen as soon as next week if current trends continue and allow another shift on the scale.
The country of 10.7 million people has carried out 2.9 million standard lab tests since the pandemic started in the spring and has confirmed 496,638 infections.
On Monday, it registered 4,377 new cases, a third of the daily peaks seen at the turn of October and November. Total deaths have doubled in November to 7,360 after cases surged.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Catherine Evans)