PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czechs on Wednesday scrambled to book free rapid-result COVID-19 tests, offered by the government to slow rising cases and give families a chance to meet at Christmas with less chance of passing on the virus.
The scheme, using antigen tests, which are cheaper and faster but somewhat less accurate than standard PCR laboratory tests, was launched on Wednesday. Results take about 15 minutes.
“I want to visit my dad for Christmas who is in bad health,” said Jiri Vancura, an IT specialist, who waited at Prague’s Bulovka hospital. He tested negative.
The government has fought back criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has included one of Europe’s biggest per capita spikes in cases in October and November, and nearly 10,000 deaths in the country of 10.7 million.
A Health Ministry leaflet inviting people for testing said it was a way to protect older family members over the holiday.
But bookings for tests at 174 sites have filled up quickly, meaning many will not be able to take a test before Christmas.
The Health Ministry aims to provide 60,000 tests per day, up from Wednesday’s initial 28,000.
Restaurants, hotels and indoor sports venues, which reopened from a coronavirus lockdown only two weeks ago, must shut again from Friday in response to a new rise in infections.
The country reported 5,315 new cases a day on average in the past week using the standard PCR tests, while the number of hospitalised patients grew to 4,632 from 4,475 a week ago.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Jan Lopatka and Alexandra Hudson)