Despite a daily capacity of 1,000, only 300 tests are being carried out

PM Igor Matovič wants to significantly increase the number of tests per day by involving private and academic labs.

Patients waiting in front of the University Hospital Bratislava to be tested.Patients waiting in front of the University Hospital Bratislava to be tested. (Source: SITA)

More than two weeks after the first coronavirus patient was confirmed in Slovakia, the country is still failing to increase the number of tests carried out on a daily basis. The number of new tests is growing at a slower pace than in neighbouring countries.

PM Igor Matovič (OĽaNO) admitted on March 25 that only 300 tests are conducted per day, although hygienists say the daily capacity is nearly 1,000.

This is because the state still has not set up all sampling sites. As a result, labs receive fewer samples to test.

Private labs have been waiting to launch testing for nearly two weeks already. They are still discussing with the state how they will join the process.

Hygienists originally told them on March 16 to wait. Two days later, then-PM Peter Pellegrini (Smer) stopped the testing. Matovič, who took the post in the meantime, wants the private labs to participate in testing.

The PM announced on March 26 that a private lab will join the testing. The new model will be launched on Friday, March 27.

Even if the state labs increased the number of tests to 1,000 immediately, it would not be enough to take more considerable measures against the coronavirus like South Korea did, experts say.

The country tests up to 15,000 samples a day. Austria, which has about 3 million inhabitants more than Slovakia, would like to achieve this number soon.

“If we followed the Korean model, we could test up to 1,500-2,000 samples a day,” Pavol Jarčuška, chair of the Slovak Association of Infectologists, told the Sme daily on March 23.

The Matovič government has higher ambitions though.

It wants to test as many as 3,000 samples a day, with the help of private and unused academic labs.

Hygienists have already “secured this step systemically”, said the spokesperson of the Public Health Authority (ÚVZ) Dáša Račková. However, one of the crucial members of the crisis staff Róbert Mistrík, responsible for putting this testing capacity in operation, could not say on March 25 when it will happen.

The samples are currently tested in the labs run by the National Reference Centre for Influenza and the Institute of Virology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) in Bratislava. In Košice, the tests are carried out by the Department of Medical and Clinical Microbiology of the Louis Pasteur University Hospital, while in Banská Bystrica and Trenčín they are carried out by the regional ÚVZ branches.

Unused state capacities

“It’s true that the state capacity has not been met,” Matovič said before March 25 government’s session.

This is a result of strict instructions for setting up the sampling sites, he opined.

Since state labs do not have enough samples, they cannot reach their capacity for testing samples.

“The number of tested samples will depend on the number delivered to the labs,” said Račková.

One of 40 measures presented by the government on March 24 is to set up sampling sites in front of some hospitals. The concrete list has not been published yet. These sites should secure drive-through testing, meaning that the medical worker will take the samples through the car window. The daily capacity of such a place should be 70 samples.

“The Health Ministry is currently working on details,” said its spokesperson Zuzana Eliášová. The exact logistics will be published after “careful planning”.

If the labs had enough samples, they could increase their capacities if necessary. SAV’s Institute of Virology can currently test 92 samples.

“We can double this number immediately to 184 samples,” said Juraj Kopáček, the institute’s chair, adding that the number can then be doubled to 368 samples a day. If this still is not enough, they would be able to increase it to 736 samples a day by recruiting a second shift, he added.

Despite complications that accompany the increase in the daily capacity of tested samples in state labs, Matovič said that “the amount of sample taking will go up significantly by the end of the week”.

Talking and waiting

Apart from 1,000 tests carried out by state labs, another 1,000 could be carried out by private labs. This concerns mostly the largest lab network Medirex, Alpha Medical, Klinická Biochémia, and probably Synlab.

“We’re meeting regularly and discussing possibilities of how the private sector can be helpful in testing,” said Peter Lednický, head of Alpha Medical, when asked about whether the state has asked them to join the testing and when this could happen.

Related articleMatovič criticises COVID-19 tests. Head of the material reserves will be dismissed Read more 

Their labs can test 270 samples a day, but they plan to increase it to 350 thanks to the involvement of three labs, Lednický continued.

In addition, the company wants to test those that pay for it. The company planned to launch such tests already on March 18.

“When we know that the state wants to use, let’s say, 80 percent of our capacities, we can test the rest on a private basis,” Lednický said.

Alpha Medical is ready to help the state to set up mobile sampling sites as well.

“We plan to establish the mobile sampling sites at least in the regional capitals,” he added.

Another company that may help the state test samples is Klinická Biológia. Its sales director Jarmila Melegová refused to provide more details about their offer though.

Medirex’s spokesperson Diana Madarászová told Sme earlier that its daily capacity is 430 samples. When they manage to obtain machines with higher performance, they will be able to increase it to 900 tests a day. Neither Medirex nor Synlab revealed the current possibilities to do so.

Meanwhile, Comenius University in Bratislava is waiting for the machines as well. The university’s labs, as well as other academic labs, can provide 1,000 more tests, according to Matovič.

Comenius University plans to launch tests in its Scientific Park. However, they are still waiting for the agreement with the University Hospital in Bratislava, which should provide it with necessary technologies.

“We expect the agreement to be made by the end of this week,” said the university’s spokesperson Lenka Miller. “I hope it turns out well.”


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