Health and Healthcare Systems

These are the OECD countries testing most for COVID-19

Martin Bachmann, Head of Department of Immunology of the Inselspital Universitaetsspital Bern university hospital, who researches a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), points on test samples after an interview with Reuters in Bern, Switzerland April 22, 2020.

Individual countries are testing their citizens for COVID-19 at wildly different rates. Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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COVID-19

  • Iceland has tested a higher proportion of its population than any other country.
  • One in eight of the population has been tested, including those with no symptoms.
  • The head of the OECD says increased testing is crucial for lifting COVID-19 lockdowns.

Iceland, Luxembourg and Estonia have tested more of their populations for coronavirus than any other countries, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Iceland’s testing rate of almost 135 per 1,000 people is partly down to a public private partnership, which involves a pharmaceutical company conducting tests on people with and without COVID-19 symptoms.

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So far, 46,000 of Iceland’s 360,000 citizens have been tested, and the government plans to carry out further widespread antibody tests in May. It has also deployed a contact tracing smartphone app.

Luxembourg, achieved the second highest testing rate (64.6 per 1,000), and, like Iceland, has imposed strict quarantine measures on those with the virus. Estonia has tested almost 37 in every 1,000 members of its population.

The lowest levels of testing in OECD countries are in Mexico (0.4), Japan (1.8) and Greece (5.8), while the average testing rate for all OECD countries is 22.9 tests per 1,000.

Diagnostics testing for COVID-19 in OECD countries
Diagnostics testing for COVID-19 in OECD countries Image: OECD

Mass testing has been credited with playing a crucial role in South Korea's success in containing the spread of the virus. The country has tested 11.6 per 1,000 of its population.

Fighting ‘a fire blindfolded’

The World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, as far back as early March, that all nations should “test, test, test” to combat the virus, but difficulties in obtaining and verifying test kits have hampered efforts in many countries.

Dr Tedros said that without mass testing, countries were trying to “fight a fire blindfolded” and urged nations to adopt a three-fold approach based on testing, isolating sufferers and contact tracing. Social distancing and hand washing alone would not extinguish the pandemic, he said.

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OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría welcomed “significant scaling up” of testing in many OECD countries, especially Spain, which is currently Europe's worst affected country. He said increasing testing capacity was crucial to start easing lockdowns and to reduce the risk of new outbreaks.

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