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Country that tested entire population for COVID now has highest death rate in world

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·5-min read
 A health worker wearing a protective suit takes a nasal swab sample from a baby through a window during the COVID19 mass testing.
As the Covid-19 situation in Slovakia remains critical, Slovak government with PM Igor Matovic have introduced mass testing of the population. Starting today 18th of January large-scale testing will continue until 26th of January. The government hopes the nationwide testing will speed up a recovery from the latest wave of the coronavirus. (Photo by Tomas Tkacik / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A health worker wearing a protective suit takes a nasal swab sample from a baby through a window during COVID-19 mass testing in Slovakia. (SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Months after becoming the first country in the world to test its entire population, Slovakia now has the highest coronavirus death rate in the world.

The nation currently has the highest seven-day rolling average of daily COVID deaths per 1 million people in its population compared with any other country.

As of 15 February, there were 17.82 new daily coronavirus deaths per 1 million people, according to Our World in Data.

This was followed by Portugal with 14.81, Montenegro with 12.63, San Marino with 12.63 and Czechia with 12.23.

Read: The underlying health conditions that allow people to get a vaccine sooner

The UK, which has seen more than 117,000 deaths since the pandemic began, came in sixth with 9.70 deaths per million as of 15 February.

It comes after Slovakia tested its entire population in October as part of a scheme that was widely praised and was understood to have brought down infections.

A man walks through the empty downtown, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),  in Nitra, Slovakia January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
A man walks through the empty downtown of Nitra in Slovakia in January. (Reuters/Radovan Stoklasa)

Cases in the country were reduced by more than 60% in one week, according to a preliminary analysis by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

However, just months later, Slovakia's rate of new COVID deaths is the highest in the world. So what went wrong?

What went wrong in Slovakia?

Slovakia has fared much worse during the second wave of coronavirus compared to the first, with cases skyrocketing since October.

Between the start of the pandemic in early 2020 and August that year, the rate of new infections in Slovakia did not rise above 10.96 per million people, according to Our World In Data.

Meanwhile, other European countries like the UK, Spain, Italy and France were seeing hundreds of people dying from the disease every day, especially during the peak around April.

Cases steadily began to rise in Slovakia from August before a sharp drop at the beginning of November, just after the entire nation was tested.

Watch: Slovakia starts testing entire population after surge in COVID-19 cases

Just before Christmas, Slovakia entered a tough national lockdown that included a round-the-clock curfew in a bid to curb the spread.

Case numbers peaked on 6 January at 597.08 cases per million people, and although they have since fallen, the figures are far off the low rates seen during the first wave.

The Slovakian government has blamed the UK variant of the virus for the recent rise in cases and deaths.

Earlier this month, it announced the fast-spreading strain had become dominant.

Health authorities reportedly sequenced all samples that tested positive in the country in a single day and found the British variant was detected in 74%. Health minister Mark Krajci called this an “unbelievable high number”, according to AP.

What's going on in Eastern Europe?

Like Slovakia, the majority of Eastern Europe was praised for its handling of the first wave after most countries locked down early and citizens appeared to stick to the harsh rules.

Aron Ecsenyi, center right, the protest organizer, stands behind a police line while his ID is checked in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. Protesters gathered at a central square in Hungary's capital of Budapest on Sunday demanding a rethinking of the country's lockdown restrictions. As the lockdown limiting restaurants to take-away service approaches the three-month mark, many business owners complain that they have received little to none of the government’s promised financial assistance while other businesses like shopping malls and retail stores have been permitted to remain open. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
Protesters gathered at a central square in Hungary's capital of Budapest demanding a rethinking of the country's lockdown restrictions. (AP)

But the whole region’s pandemic experience has been dramatically different since the autumn, when cases and deaths began to rise across the board.

This week, Slovakia was not the only Eastern European country in the top five for the highest death rates in the world – Montenegro and Czechia have the third and fifth highest rate respectively.

Meanwhile, on Friday, total COVID cases in Russia, Poland, Czechia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria together surpassed 10 million and total COVID deaths in the region topped 214,000 deaths, according to Reuters tally.

Several of the countries are also dealing with huge anti-vaccination movements, which are threatening their path to recovery.

A woman wearing a facemask as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus, walks on the iconic Charles Bridge. Heavy snowfall across the Czech Republic has disrupted rail, road and public transport. (Photo by Tomas Tkacik / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A woman wearing a facemask as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus walks on Charles Bridge in Prague, Czechia. (SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Vaccine sceptics in countries like the Czechia, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria have included former presidents and doctors. Even Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic said he did not want to be forced into getting a vaccine.

The hesitancy comes on the back of conspiracy theories like claims that coronavirus is a hoax or that vaccines are being used to inject microchips into people.

According to the AP, a recent Balkan study warned there is a direct link between support for conspiracy theories and scepticism toward vaccination.

“A majority across the region does not plan to take the vaccine, a ratio considerably lower than elsewhere in Europe, where a majority favours taking the vaccine,” it reportedly said.

People rest and are watched to control possible side effects after receiving a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the Belgrade Fair turned into a vaccination centre on February 12, 2021. - Inside the dome of Belgrade's fairgrounds, dozens of nurses in protective suits inject Covid-19 jabs into young and old alike, working with an efficiency that has turned Serbia into continental Europe's fastest vaccinator. The small Balkan country has inoculated more than 500,000 of its seven million population in almost two weeks, a rate that exceeds all countries in Europe outside the United Kingdom, according to the scientific publication Our World in Data. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
In Servia, inside the dome of Belgrade's fairgrounds, dozens of nurses in protective suits inject COVID-19 jabs into young and old alike. (AFP via Getty Images)

Elsewhere, Germany has recently ramped up border controls with Czechia and Austria’s Tyrol region amid fears over outbreaks of COVID variants strains.

Read more:

First travellers fined £10,000 under new COVID travel quarantine rules

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The country has recently seen a drop in daily infection rates but the spread of new variants in neighbouring countries, like France, threaten to undo those gains, Reuters reported.

One explanation for why Eastern Europe fared much better in the first wave than the rest of the continent is that countries locked down fast when infection numbers were still low, according to The Conversation.

The publication’s analysis showed the region then failed to introduce stringent measures when cases first began to soar in October.

Watch: Long lines of trucks on German-Czech border