As a service to foreigners living and working in Uruguay–and travellers who have found themselves waiting out the current health crisis here–Guru’Guay will be providing regular updates on the coronavirus in Uruguay.
As of November 28th, 5,303 cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) have been registered in Uruguay. Nowadays there are 12 people in intensive care.
21% of people who tested positive have not had symptoms (they were tested as they had been in contact with someone who was ill). On November 28th there are now 1,122 active cases in the entire country.
The first cases were reported on March 13. The vast majority of patients have mild or no symptoms. Unfortunately there have been 74 deaths — principally older people with pre-existing conditions and a Filipino crew member from an Australian cruise ship which emergency-docked in Uruguay.
IMPORTANT UPDATE on our latest article: Uruguay borders to remain closed for the austral summer
1000 tests per day
After a slow start with testing, we finally hit 1000 tests per day in May, a figure that was promised in early April. A meeting of the various health institutions and the government took place on April 7, and the agreement of a common testing protocol, led to an immediate and significant jump in the number of tests carried out. By July testing was regularly over 2000 cases per day–making Uruguay one of the countries doing most testing in the world.
On March 30, the Health Ministry confirmed that 90% of the infections were in Montevideo and Canelones, concentrated in the more affluent neighbourhoods of Carrasco and Pocitos. By mid June, the focus of positive cases had switched to the north of the country due to the open border with Brazil (see below). On August there were 164 positive cases in Montevideo.
Uruguay, a small country ‘at the end of the world’ is used to relying on itself. Therefore, it has created its own Coronavirus test and the government is planning to significantly increase testing as soon as possible. Moreover, Uruguayan scientists sequenced the coronavirus genome from 10 patients at the end of March. As a result, this will provide important information regarding tracking the virus spread and virulence.
Never miss a video – visit our Uruguay Corona Chronicles playlist on YouTube and hit the red ‘subscribe’ button under the video.
Getting in and out of Uruguay
To sum up, the borders are closed for anyone other than citizens and residents with some exceptions.
14-day self isolation
Anyone entering Uruguay has to do to self-quarantine for 14 days from the very start of the pandemic.
The story of an Australian cruise ship, the Greg Mortimer, became the site of a dramatic humanitarian rescue that demonstrated Uruguayans’ sense of solidarity.
Living in Uruguay – Immediate reaction
As you may know, Uruguay was one of the first countries to act immediately on confirmation of the first cases of coronavirus. For example, schools and public spaces like cinemas, theatres, football stadia were closed on March 16 until further notice.
However, quarantine in Uruguay is not mandatory. The government is appealing to people to act responsibly and in solidarity with their neighbours. (See Episode #1 of the Uruguay Corona Chronicles above to learn more about this inherently Uruguayan approach to societal behaviour.)
Likewise, travel within Uruguay is discouraged unless it is essential. In anticipation of the Easter holidays, over 200 checkpoints were set up on Uruguayan roads and highways.
Similarly, shopping centres were closed though the supermarkets and pharmacies continue to remain open. We are finding that neighbourhood supermarkets are relatively empty and a good place to shop and maintain ‘social distancing’.
Also, street markets, called ferias here, continue to sell groceries and cleaning products and are open from 8am to 2pm.
A police presence in markets, plazas and other public places aims to help ensure that social distancing is taking place.
In addition, people under 65 are requested to avoid shopping between 8.30am and 10am so that older folks may shop.
Most restaurants and bars have closed down till further notice (this is a huge sacrifice, and we’ll have to go out and frequent them like crazy when things return to normal). Many restaurants are offering delivery. Here is a link to our favourite places offering delivery in Montevideo that are continuing to serve. Supplies of face masks and alcohol in gel have been limited to two per person.
The Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou declared himself ‘optimistic’ regarding the current health situation on April 8. As a consequence, he announced several hundred rural schools would start classes on April 22.
In places where people gather, including supermarkets, shops and government offices, people must wear facemasks (a scarf is fine). Besides, the police will be providing facemasks to anyone who does not have one.
On April 10, the government announced that from April 13 anyone using or working on public transport should wear a facemask. For that, 150-200,000 facemasks would be distributed on buses free of charge.
The construction industry returned to work after the Easter holidays and were closely monitored by inspectors checking that workers are able to social-distance. Also, 400 workers were tested by May 2 and there were no positive tests. This led the government to open public sector offices.
Return of football and entertainment venues On August 3 museums and theaters reopened, after four months of suspended activities. Above all, social distancing measures are in place. Anxiously awaited, football matches returned (without spectators) on August 8. As a friend of mine said at the beginning of the pandemic – when the football returns we’ll almost be back to normal.
Return to school
On May 21, government announced the return to school of Uruguayan schoolchildren. So, 300 teachers and support staff working in rural schools were tested and all found negative. This led the government to announce a staggered *voluntary* return to classes in June.
Recognising that for some families, a return to school is a matter of urgency and for others it is not (50% of rural school children are still being kept at home by their parents), the plan takes into account regions, vulnerability and population density. In the meantime, children will continue studying online.
The plan announced on May 21 is as follows:
- On May 25 principals and teachers to return to schools. There will be random tests for teachers and workers like there were with 300 members of staff in rural schools this month. The idea is that parents who are concerned their children’s studies have suffered because of limited possibilities of studying online can consult with the teachers in this period.
- June 1 – rural middle schools, schools in marginal areas particularly full time schools (usually attended by children from deprived circumstances), except for Montevideo and the metropolitan area (the most populous regions in Uruguay) and all 81 special schools will open
- On June 15 all schools, public and private would be open, except in Montevideo and the metropolitan area
- June 29 – all remaining schools will reopen.
This timetable will be dependent on monitoring and evaluation. To sum up, the school day will not be more than four hours long (this is standard in most state schools anyway) and break-times will be staggered. School vacations will be from July 7.
NEW – the return to school appears to have worked well. Random testing of teachers and school staff showed no positive cases. (August 2020) Uruguay is the first country in Latin America to resume face-to-face teaching.
The risks of bordering Brazil
Uruguay shares a long border along the north and east of the country with Brazil, a country suffering the consequences of an incoherent leadership regarding COVID-19. Several major Uruguayan towns including Artigas, Rivera and Chuy, have ‘blended’ borders with a Brazilian town – you can walk without even knowing it from one country to the other. The Uruguayan method of contagion control has been that every time an outbreak has occurred, authorities have tested, identified contact cases, quarantined them and so ‘put out the fire’.
Timely diagnosis and analysis are crucial. Following an outbreak of 30 cases in Rivera—some eight hours drive from Montevideo—, on May 27 the Uruguayan government is looking at installing a mobile testing centre in the north of the country to facilitate diagnosis. Thanks to quick action on May 27, except for this recent outbreak, there have only been 32 cases in total in all the departments bordering Brazil.
Then, the government announced a series of measures for Rivera, including the placement of sanitary barriers at access points and control by the Armed Forces on the roads, to prevent the entry of vehicles except for “justified reasons”, meaning the person lives in the department.
In turn, the Ministry of Transport is checking passengers’ temperatures on inter-departmental buses and as on all other public transport, facemasks are mandatory during the trip.
Here at Guru’Guay our intention is not to provide daily updates of infection rates. Instead we want to provide essential information you should know about the conditions living here, and some occasional good news. We have to keep our chins up. There’s a really friendly helpful community in our Facebook group Discover Uruguay where we are posting more regular updates and people are offering to help each other out. Eg, don’t have good enough Spanish if you need to call for medical assistance – there’s a Spanish-speaking volunteer who has volunteered to help you in Discover Uruguay. #JustLoveThem.
The latest on the pandemic in Uruguay
Jan 10 2023 The Uruguay government declared the end of the health emergency on April 1 2022 after 752 days. 82% of the population has received at least two shots.
No place I’d rather be in a pandemic than Uruguay
An 8-part co-production by Guru’Guay and El País, Uruguay’s oldest newspaper featuring travelers who found themselves stranded in Uruguay when the borders closed.
- Confinamiento en Uruguay: dos holandeses “más valiceros que los valiceros” (Jan and Pleun, from the Netherlands, Spanish only)
- We were looking for a sense of community. We found it in a pandemic in Uruguay (Kris and Ryan from Oakland, California)
- Pregnant, South African and stuck in a pandemic in Uruguay (Vici from Pretoria, South Africa)
- Canada Motor-bikers in a pandemic in Uruguay (Elle and Jeremy, Canada)
- US actor turned digital nomad finds Uruguay ideal place to settle (Chris from NYC)
- Love & shelter in Uruguay for Clipper round the world sailor (Clara, from Spain/USA)
- Amazing coincidences for Russian stranded in Uruguay (Ekaterina ‘Kate’ Chernysheva and Jao Andreu from Russia)
- Heidi Lender: stuck in Uruguay in the pandemic (Heidi Lender from USA)
This information contains information taken from El Observador. Guru’Guay is not responsible for its accuracy—but it’s a well-regarded paper, which is why we are referencing it. We will continue to update. We are also referencing official information is on the Ministry of Health website and the website of the Uruguayan President (in Spanish).
[This article was first published March 16 2020 and updated at the date above]