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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 COVID deaths per 1 million people in its population compared with any other country.

As of 15 February, there were 17.82 new 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 are 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 

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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. Yahoo  News

The Prime Minister has rubbished claims the UK will introduce vaccine passports for entry to places such as pubs and cinemas, insisting that rapid Covid tests will reopen “parts of the economy we couldn’t get open”.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said: “Doing things within the domestic UK economy… what we’re thinking of at the moment is a route that relies on mass vaccination.

Read more: Coronavirus: Who will get the Covid-19 vaccine next? 

“Plus, we’ll use lateral flow testing — or rapid testing — for those bits that have been the toughest nuts to crack, such as nightclubs, theatres, and those parts of the economy we couldn’t get open.”

Johnson added: “Lots of businesses are already using the potential of rapid on-the-day testing — I think that, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward.”

Lateral flow tests have a turnaround time of less than half an hour and do not require use of a laboratory, meaning they can be rolled out in pop-up sites across the country.

The Department of Health last week signed contracts with three different manufacturers to produce up to 2m rapid Covid tests per day, as the government prepares its “roadmap” for reopening the country.

It comes amid speculation that ministers are mulling plans to introduce vaccine passports alongside the easing of lockdown restrictions. 

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab yesterday refused to rule out the need to show proof of vaccination to enter shops and restaurants, saying the government was considering using vaccine passports at the “domestic or local level”.

But Johnson insisted this evening that the passports will not be used within the UK, though they may still pave the way for international travel to resume.

“Some countries clearly are going to be wanting to insist that people coming to their country have a evidence of vaccination, just as people insisted in the past that you had evidence that you’re vaccinated against yellow fever or other diseases,” said the PM.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps last week said he had spoken to his counterparts in the US and Singapore about the creation of an an international vaccine certification system.

“Just as we have the yellow fever card… I imagine that in the future there’ll be an international system where countries will want to know that you’ve been potentially vaccinated,” he told the BBC Radio Four Today programme. 

Greece last week became the latest country to suggest it will lift current border restrictions for visitors able to prove they have been immunised, with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis telling Reuters he was “cautiously optimistic” of a lucrative summer.

Both Denmark and Sweden have announced plans to introduce digital vaccine certificates to kickstart tourism back into action after almost a year of hibernation.

Read more: Why lockdown winners are not vaccine losers

Both Denmark and Sweden have announced plans to introduce digital vaccine certificates to kickstart tourism back into action after almost a year of hibernation.

The Swedish government said it hoped to implement vaccine passports by June, and would work to make the national certificates compatible with international certificates being discussed by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the EU. City A.M


Rwanda Defence Force Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jean-Bosco Kazura (left) and François Beya, President Félix Tshisekedi’s special advisor on security affairs, during the meeting in Kigali on Sunday, February 14. The two countries have expressed shared commitment to uproot negative forces operating in DR Congo. Photo: Courtesy


Top security officials from Rwanda and DR Congo on Sunday, February 14, concluded their meeting after agreeing on "a series" of recommendations and a plan of action that will help deal with security threats that affect both countries.

The meeting was held in Kigali.

Rwanda's delegation was led by the Chief of Defence Staff Gen Jean-Bosco Kazura and the Congolese delegation was headed by Francois Beya, President Félix Tshisekedi's special advisor on security affairs.

The recommendations from the meeting which were not immediately released to the media, will be forwarded to the two countries' leaders for consideration.

Beya said they are "a reference document that we shall take to our Heads of State."

Part of a joint communique released at the end of the meeting states: "This meeting is also a demonstration of the unwavering commitment of the two Heads of State to restore peace in eastern DRC and in the region."

"The meeting came up with a series of recommendations and a plan of action for their expeditious implementation."

At the start of the meeting, on Saturday, Kazura noted that the two countries' Heads of State, Presidents Paul Kagame and Tshisekedi, "mandated us" to meet regularly, discuss and find ways to do whatever is necessary "so that our countries work together and develop together."

The meeting is a follow up to another one held in Kinshasa last month.

The Kigali meeting was also in line with decisions of a virtual mini-summit convened by Tshisekedi in the Congolese border town of Goma on October 7, 2020.

During this summit, the two countries' leaders decided to strengthen peace and security for regional development.

The DR Congo is home to militia groups that originated from Rwanda. Intelligence officials from both countries regularly share information as the Congolese army continues to battle the militia groups.

Ever since coming to power DR Congo President Félix Tshisekedi vowed to address a wide range of issues in his country, including war and insecurity.

In an effort to deliver peace, serenity, and calm to eastern DR Congo, the Congolese army has in the past two years moved in decisively and battled anti-Rwandan militia based there.

In the past two years, hundreds of militia fighters were captured and repatriated to Rwanda while others were killed in battle. Hundreds of their civilian dependents have also been returned home, rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

On Saturday, Jean-Claude Kamb, a senior Congolese intelligence officer said "we are very optimistic regarding the military operations to neutralise all these negative forces." - James Karuhanga, The New Times

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