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South America’s Covid success story sees cases rise

. Dec 02, 2020
Uruguay South America Covid success story sees cases rise Uruguay is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases. Photo: Futuristman/Shutterstock

The least-populated country in South America, Uruguay has become a reference in how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. By mid-November, the country had recorded only 5,117 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 74 deaths, giving it the smallest per capita rate of deaths anywhere in South America or Europe.

But this success is now being put in check. Despite recording days in the middle of the year with no new Covid-19 cases to speak of, Uruguay is now experiencing a peak. In the last two weeks, new coronavirus infections have regularly surpassed 100 on a daily basis.

</p> <p>The total number of cases now stands at 6,024, and health authorities fear the peak will continue. So, what explains this recent uptick in cases in a country that was, until recently, only minimally affected by the pandemic?</p> <p>President Luis Lacalle Pou suggests that the issue was Uruguay&#8217;s potentially premature reopening process, with the country moving toward normality much faster than its continental neighbors. Relying on its low population density, accessible health service, and political consensus over the pandemic, Uruguay has yet to impose a single day of mandatory quarantine and reopened many of its services some time ago.</p> <iframe src="https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&#038;time=2020-03-01..latest&#038;country=~URY&#038;region=World&#038;casesMetric=true&#038;interval=smoothed&#038;hideControls=true&#038;perCapita=true&#038;smoothing=7&#038;pickerMetric=total_cases&#038;pickerSort=desc" loading="lazy" style="width: 100%; height: 600px; border: 0px none;"></iframe> <p>Schools reopened for in-person classes around the country <a href="https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2020/10/09/las-clases-presenciales-en-uruguay-seran-obligatorias-desde-el-martes/">on October 13</a>, long before anywhere else in South America could dream of such a measure.</p> <p>&#8220;Uruguay has been fully active for a long time, like few other countries in the world. Opening places to society implied the possibility of more infections,” said President Lacalle Pou, in a recent press conference.&nbsp;</p> <p>With a country of Uruguay&#8217;s size, the huge majority of its population and business is located in the capital of Montevideo — and it is also where the overwhelming percentage of coronavirus cases have been recorded. After an uptick in cases in Montevideo, the Uruguayan Health Ministry announced that testing capacity would be increased in the capital.</p> <h2>Could football be to blame?</h2> <p>South America&#8217;s passion, football could not stay away for long during the coronavirus pandemic. National leagues in Argentina and Bolivia held out the longest and recently restarted their competitions, but football has been played in Uruguay since July.</p> <p>Rules were strict and the return of the national sport was largely deemed a success. All but five of the 15 clubs in Uruguay&#8217;s top division are located within Montevideo, restricting the potential for spread to the rest of the country.</p> <p>The scenario changed in September, however, when the South American football confederation Conmebol announced the return of the Copa Libertadores continental club competition and South America&#8217;s World Cup qualifiers. As opposed to being contained in Uruguay, teams would have to travel abroad, and welcome players from other countries.</p> <iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/5Uwzznf0T6ZVeI3jdXlxHi" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>On November 20, the Uruguayan government fined the national football team USD 15,000 after 16 members of the squad tested positive for Covid-19. The team had travelled to Barranquilla in Colombia, four days before hosting Brazil in Montevideo. Footage on social media showed Uruguayan players disrespecting social distancing rules, holding a team barbecue in celebration of their win in Colombia.</p> <p>Uruguayan sports newspaper Ovación, meanwhile, <a href="http://www.ovaciondigital.com.uy/futbol/palmeiras-brote-covid-diecisiete-casos-positivos-coronavirus-brasil-equipo-futbol-matias-vina.html">pointed the finger</a> at Brazilian club Palmeiras as being responsible for the virus spread among the squad. Uruguay left-back Matias Viña — who plays his club football for Palmeiras — was the first member of the team to test positive, along with many of his team-mates back in Brazil.</p> <h2>Uruguay still a success story</h2> <p>Despite the recent uptick in cases, the way Uruguay has handled the pandemic so far has been commendable. Much of this, it is believed, is down to its testing program. Some 416,093 tests have been applied since March, giving the country the highest per capita rate in the continent.</p> <iframe src="https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&#038;time=2020-03-01..latest&#038;country=URY~BRA~PER~ARG~CHL~COL&#038;region=World&#038;casesMetric=true&#038;interval=smoothed&#038;hideControls=true&#038;perCapita=true&#038;smoothing=7&#038;pickerMetric=total_cases&#038;pickerSort=desc" loading="lazy" style="width: 100%; height: 600px; border: 0px none;"></iframe> <p>The government also deployed &#8220;coronavirus hunters,&#8221; who operated in neighborhoods by going door-to-door, testing residents, and reaffirming health protocols.&nbsp;</p> <p>General living conditions are also attributed as a reason for success. One hundred percent of the Uruguayan population has access to clean drinking water, which cannot be said for other nations around the continent.</p> <p>The culture of mask-wearing has also been widely accepted by the Uruguayan society. Group of Covid-deniers struggled to gain any popular support, unlike what has been seen in <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/13/covid-19-deaths-double-denialism-endures-brazil/">Brazil</a> and <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/04/13/buenos-aires-argentina-makes-facemasks-mandatory/">elsewhere</a>.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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