Can mass Antigen testing for COVID-19 be an effective tool for mitigating the disease? Lessons from Slovakia.

30  March 2021    4:00 pm CEST

Martin Kahanec (CEU) on Epidemiology, Economics, Politics


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More than a year since the first outbreak in China in December 2019, most countries are still struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Mass antigen testing has been proposed as an instrument to mitigate the spread of the disease and allow the economy to re-open. We investigate the potential benefits of mass antigen testing for the mitigation of the pandemic using data from a uniquely designed testing that took place in Slovakia in Autumn 2020. Slovakia was the first country in the world to implement and repeat mass rapid antigen testing. After the first round of nation-wide testing, only districts above an ex-ante unknown prevalence threshold were re-tested.

Comparing districts in the neighbourhood above and below the threshold using a quasi-experimental design, we find that repeated mass antigen testing reduces infections by about 25-30% and results in a decrease in R0 of 0.3 two weeks after the testing. These effects peaked about 15 days after the second round of testing and gradually dissipated afterwards. These results suggest that mass testing could be an effective tool in curbing the spread of COVID-19 but for lasting effects it would need to be conducted regularly in relatively short intervals.

Since this analysis was undertaken, the virus has spread rapidly in much of Central Europe, including Slovakia. After presenting his main results, Martin Kahanec will discuss what has gone wrong since the Autumn in the region with wiiw Executive Director Mario Holzner, and give his thoughts on how testing strategies can help to get on top of the current wave of the pandemic. Questions will also be taken from the audience.   

Download the full paper

Martin Kahanec is Professor and Acting Dean of the School of Public Policy at the Central European University in Vienna. His main research interests are labor and population economics, migration, EU mobility, ethnicity, and reforms in European labor markets. Martin Kahanec has published in peer-reviewed academic journals, contributed chapters in collected volumes including the Oxford Handbook of Economic Inequality (OxfordUP) and the International Handbook on the Economics of Migration (Edward Elgar), and has edited several scientific book volumes and journal special issues.