From dawn on Saturday, soldiers and medics were due to fan out across the country, from the vast Petrzalka housing estates of Bratislava, to tiny hamlets in the shadows of the Tatra Mountains, to the mostly Hungarian-speaking towns dotted along the Danube plain.

The plan is to test almost four-fifths of the population, using rapid antigen testing that has an estimated 30% false negative rate. Results will be delivered in a sealed envelope within 15 minutes.

"In terms of the pandemic were in a worse situation than the Czech Republic, but were two or three weeks behind," he told me. He said he had been put in charge of the national operation after a pilot project in four counties in northern Slovakia had been judged a success.

The neighbouring Czech Republic, with twice the population, recorded 13,051 new infections on Thursday, bringing its total to 310,068. Some 2,862 people have died, and the mortality rate in the past two weeks is the highest in the EU.

The standard diagnostic tool for Covid is PCR tests (polymerase chain reaction), which detect the presence of the viruss RNA - its genetic material. PCR tests are fairly sensitive, offering perhaps 90% accuracy, but they are slower and more expensive.

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