For example in the region during the confrontation of the coronavirus pandemic, Uruguay is now experiencing an alarming situation: an exponential increase in cases, community transmission of the virus, a record of more than a thousand contagions in one day and no agreement reached for the purchase of vaccines.
According to the Ministry of Health, the positivity rate rose from 9.49% to 13.66% – the highest since the start of the crisis.
Meanwhile, President Luis Lacalle Pou spends his weekends in the elite resort town of La Paloma, where he has a home and has been seen frequently surfing in recent weeks.
“There has been a very big change between the first six months of the pandemic and today. Both in terms of the behavior of the virus and the health measures adopted by the government”, explains sociologist Eduardo Botinelli, director of the institute. Factum research.
According to him, the initial strategy of locating the virus and isolating infected people and their contacts was working well as most cases were imported from Brazil or Argentina. In addition, it was winter and it seemed easier for the population to comply with the isolation guidelines suggested by the government.
The President was personally involved in communicating the precautionary measures and appeared on television to make frequent statements.
Today the situation is different. Transmission of the virus has now become community-based, that is to say it circulates throughout the country without being able to identify the origin of the cases. This makes the establishment of “sanitary bubbles”, as the strategy of isolating people and their contacts knows, is no longer as effective.
“In addition, summer has arrived and Uruguayans feel that the pandemic is over. In Montevideo, where most of the cases are located, people have started to go out more, to go to bars and restaurants, because quarantine was never compulsory, ”emphasizes Botinelli.
Health professionals are now worried about the return of people who live in the capital and have gone on holiday to the coast, where they have been in towns on beaches, bars and parties.
Lacalle Pou also failed to appear frequently and communicate on the severity of the pandemic.
For Botinelli, he was taken by surprise, also confident that the virus had been defeated in the country. The government had struck up a conversation with Covax, a World Health Organization consortium that monitors studies of potential vaccines, and the Department of Health even announced that vaccination would begin in April.
However, when neighbors like Chile and Argentina started applying vaccines, the Uruguayan government received a lot of criticism. “There was pressure from the opposition and from society. Now the government is rushing deals with other labs, but the truth is that, for now, we have nothing,” Bottinelli said.
As the president took to the beach on Sunday, the country broke the record for infection cases: there were 1,212 records in 24 hours. “We are in negotiations and are evaluating the best vaccines available. In the coming days, we will make very important announcements on this subject,” he declared, already back in power on Monday.
He also said Uruguay will have an “ambitious” vaccination plan, which aims to immunize 600,000 people per month – the country’s population is 3.4 million.
The increase in cases has been seen since September, but not on this scale. For this reason, Uruguay has decided not to open its borders for the summer season, which is a blow to the economy, as the resorts attract many visitors from Argentina and Brazil and tourism accounts for 3%. of GDP.
In December, the government decided to close the country’s borders even to Uruguayans who had not purchased a return ticket. The measure would be valid until January 10, but was extended until the end of the month. The boat transport system that connected Montevideo and Buenos Aires, which operated during the pandemic but only for those with double residences, has been suspended.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the country currently has 28,475 infected people and has accumulated 275 deaths. Most cases are concentrated in Montevideo, but in recent weeks there has been an increase in contagions in Maldonado (where Punta Del Este is located) and Rocha, which has several trendy beaches. Although there are no foreigners, internal movements due to the summer holidays and the holiday season have contributed to the increase in cases in these tourist regions.
Maldonado’s Health Secretary Leonardo Cipriani on Monday (11) asked anyone on the beach with symptoms of coronavirus not to return to Montevideo. The government is considering paying to keep these people isolated wherever they are.
“This measure focuses mainly on young people, who have been to parties or other types of towns. We want them to understand that when they come back to town, they can infect their parents, their grandparents. parents, ”Cipriani said.
The concern is even more understandable when you consider that in Uruguay the population over 65 is 14% (according to the last census) and that there are 500 people over 100 years old.
Although not receiving tourists from abroad, Uruguayan beaches were crowded and there were queues on the roads. City governments have put up signs asking people to stay in small groups. The police are watching the vendors on the beach with masks. In restaurants, the temperature is taken and in some cases people are asked for their name and contact details.
For infectologists, the strategies used so far are no longer sufficient and new measures must be introduced. “Once we break these records and have community transmission, the tracing and isolation strategy, alone, is not effective in stopping the virus,” explains Marcelo Fiori, from the University of the Republic.
The same is stated by Blauco Rodríguez, of the Medical College of Uruguay. “At this rate, our health system is moving towards saturation, something must be done. We do not have an ICU for contamination on a larger scale.”
For Lacalle Pou, however, taking more drastic measures, such as a mandatory quarantine or a lockdown, would be a difficult decision. He has said since the start of the pandemic that due to his liberal ideological beliefs he would not make these decisions and would choose to recommend citizens to be careful and stay at home.
“It will be an ideological dilemma for him, if we get to the point of needing a measure to restrict the Uruguayans, he will contradict his speech,” Bottinelli said.