Health Ministry unveils huge testing study to gauge real level of coronavirus infections in Czech Republic

Photo: ČTK/Dalibor Glück

The Ministry of Health has announced it is launching a collective study aimed at gauging the COVID-19 infection levels within the Czech population. Around 27,000 selected individuals and volunteers will be tested in order to give health officials the data needed to establish a better picture about the stage of the pandemic in the country. Results are expected to be available at the beginning of May.

Photo: ČTK/Dalibor Glück

As the Czech Republic prepares to gradually dismantle its quarantine measures and attempt to reach a level of herd immunity, health officials say it is necessary to first establish a picture on the level of spread of COVID-19 within the country.

This is to be achieved by collecting and analysing samples from a wide representative group of the Czech population, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch said at a press conference on Tuesday. Calling it an “unprecedented study in modern Czech history”, he explained the details of how it will be carried out.

“This substantial and representative study will collect samples from up to 27,000 individuals. We made sure to choose the population samples from geographical clusters which we know have been hit quite hard by the disease…

Adam Vojtěch, photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
“This includes the area around the [Moravian] towns of Litovel and Uničov, which were briefly quarantined, but also Prague and a certain group of individuals with chronic illnesses. We want this study to be as representative as possible in regards to the population, individual age groups and sexes.”

Sampling is set to begin this week and should be finished by the beginning of May. In order to ensure the samples are truly representative, parts of the target groups will be selected by the Czech Statistics Office and the Academy of Sciences.

However, adults up to the age of 89 and in some cases children as well, are encouraged to voluntarily take part in the study by visiting sampling points in Prague, Brno, Olomouc and selected smaller districts. Further details and a detailed description of the sampling points posted on the Ministry of Health website.

With the exception of Olomouc, where full blood samples will be collected, the individual test will be composed of a finger-prick blood test, a so called “rapid-test” for COVID-19 and the filling out of a questionnaire. The results themselves will be available within 15-20 minutes.

The project will be under the competence of the Institute of Health Information and Statistics, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Health. Its director Ladislav Dušek called it a “monstrous project”. Cautious of speculation, he provided some basic detail on what sort of results the Health Ministry is expecting.

Ladislav Dušek, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
“It will basically tell us whether a very small, medium, or high amount of the population has come into contact with the virus and at what stage of the imaginary curve we currently find ourselves.

“Do not expect exact answers on the level of three decimal points. We are aiming at a semi-quantitative result. That means anything between 0 to 10 or 15 percent would be regarded as a low level of spread, while more than 15 percent would be considered medium.

Deputy Health Minister Roman Prymula said similar tests have been conducted in other parts of Europe as well, but it would be unwise to exclusively rely on foreign data, as these numbers tend to conflict with one another. He expects the overall level of infection rates to lie somewhere between per mile and percentage point numbers. However, he stressed that the numbers could be higher in specific locations hit by the epidemic.

Further details on the study and the individual testing stations can be found here: https://covid-imunita.uzis.cz/index.php?pg=o-studii