Coronavirus in Uruguay – a summary of the first 9 months

An indepth summary of Uruguay's response to COVID-19 from March to November 2020, when coronavirus cases were at their lowest. Exemplary pandemic response.
By Karen A Higgs
Updates on the coronavirus in Uruguay for travellers and expats
Last updated on November 28, 2020

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.

However, there are some flights. Click the link to find out our status update on flights to and from Uruguay.

14-day self isolation

Anyone entering Uruguay has to do to self-quarantine for 14 days from the very start of the pandemic.

Cruise ships

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.

Looking ahead

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.

Our purpose

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.

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]

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32 Responses

  1. So, even though ALL the property I own in the world is in Uruguay I cannot travel there without special permission? I’m a US passport holder and am working with someone I met on this website to obtain special permission/residency from abroad, etc.

    Is the best course of action? We have no permanent home here in the USA after November…the plan was to be permanent residents in November of 2020…..

    1. Hi Brent, I’m so sorry to read this. What a difficult situation. Assuming you are talking with a recommended lawyer, then, yes, I would say you are getting the best advice possible, at this time. Things are fluid and hopefully you’ll be able to get here by November. Wishing you all the very best with this, Karen

  2. I am scheduled to fly on Copa Airlines to Montevideo from San Francisco, CA w a stopover in Panama City. Leaving Nov. 29 and returning on Dec. 12, 2020. My question is: will I have to be in quarantine for 14 days before being allowed to enter Montevideo. I have taken a couple of Covid 19 tests and they were negative.

    1. Hi Lawrence, it’s impossible to know right now how things will be in November, hopefully much more flexible! But for now anyone coming into this country must have a negative COVID test done maximum 72 hours before travelling and still has to quarantine 14 days. Make sure you check in with us a few weeks before you travel and we’ll do our best to provide you with the latest updates. All the best — Karen PS And be sure to sign up for our newsletter – link in the footer.

  3. Will Cruise ships be allowed to disembark in December 2020? We are moving to Uruguay then and thought we’d cruise down from California. Shall we skip the cruise and fly?

    1. Hi Brent, thanks for writing. It’s very difficult to know what will be happening later on in the year. Hopefully by then everything will be opened up – but noone knows 100%. One thing that I would suggest you check is that you are allowed to disembark the ship if Uruguay is not the final destination of the cruiser. I know a couple who were not allowed to disembark definitively, and were forced to go on to the ship’s final destination (Argentina), and then return by ferry. A waste of time and money. Very strange and they were very annoyed about it, as you can imagine. Sorry not to be of more help! Feel free to write back in a few months. Do subscribe to our newsletter, as we send updates there. — Karen

      1. Thanks for the helpful information Karen! Yes, we plan to fill out a form that will allow us to disembark in Montevideo. Fingers crossed all will go smoothly. We can not wait to become permanent residents of this incredible country.

        1. Wonderful! Keep in touch! If you are not already signed up to our newsletter, you will find a link in the footer – and make sure you check out our guidebooks! — All the best, Karen

  4. Hey Guru 🙂 I’m planning to get the hell out of Europe and move to Uruguay for more freedom.

    How severe was the lockdown there and what do people there think about this kind of measure?
    Just to be clear, I’m looking for an open minded place and a lot of personal freedom, exactly what you cannot find in EU anymore.
    THank you and all the best

    1. Hi Adrian, as mentioned above the lockdown was voluntary but everyone stuck to it. Things are easing as you will have read above. Uruguayans continue to value *collective care* over personal freedom and act accordingly. We all wear masks in stores and on public transport–a requirement for now. Best, Karen

    2. He leído con atención todo y la verdad me alegra que estés con nosotros. Uruguay es un país chico, pero nos cuidamos unos a otros. Hemos hecho cuarentena voluntaria y lo hemos tomado con responsabilidad. Solo decirte que estoy a tus órdenes para lo que necesites. Trabajo para. Estado Uruguayo. Que pasen bien el día “vecinos”

    1. Thanks so much, Julio! Delighted that as a Uruguayan living in the US you’re finding it useful — Karen

  5. Hi Guru’Guay – Thank you so much for just having this site – let alone making videos and updating us daily. I am a solo, female British backpacker who started out from the UK in October 2019. I have been volunteering for environmental projects in Brazil trying to learn about Permaculture and sustainable living. I took a yoga teacher training course in Brazil for the whole of January and then came to Uruguay on 1st February with the aim of learning Spanish and then taking up some volunteer spaces here. Just as I finished my spanish lessons (on 16th March), Covid19 properly hit Uruguay and everything started to shut down. I am not due to fly back to the UK until October 2020 (from Colombia) and I didn’t feel a knee jerk reaction to drop everything and fly back to the UK. I have a nice and safe air BnB in Montevideo and have been here for 2 weeks in self isolation (and am well, healthy and happy here), and I have a potentiial volunteer spot on an eco project if/when things have calmed down (which could take a while I know). My first visa runs until 1st May and under normal circumstances i could just cross the border into Brazil or Argentina for a few days and then come back and have another 90 days here. However, now that the borders are closed do you (or does anyone) have any idea if it is possible to extend my visa online? I don’t think travelling up through South America (my original plan) will be possible now but Uruguay is a great place for Permaculture and if I can extend my visa and sit tight here for another 3 months then situations might change (and/or it might be easier and safer to travel back to the UK then as well). Any help/info/advice for visa extension would be gratefully recieved. Also are there any other people out there who decided to sit tight here rather than dash back to Europe or am I the only (crazy?!) one?. Thanks in advance and all the best

    1. Hi Maya, so glad to hear you are doing fine. Montevideo is probably one of the best cities to sit this whole craziness out, that is for sure. Yes, normally, just going over to Buenos Aires, even for the day, would have done the trick. Now, I see the situation you are in. I don’t have an answer for you but I am sure we can find one. If you’re not there already, do sign up for our Discover Uruguay group on Facebook and ask your question there. I’ll also ask my contacts. Thanks so much for the kind words – and stay safe! — Karen

        1. Glad to help! And I see you have already received a bunch of helpful advice. All the best, Karen

  6. Thanks for this. FYI, the linked article mentions MIA-MVD flights cancelled from May 8, not from 3/18. That said, flights seem to have been cancelled at least from 3/16-3/25 (and we’re trying to figure out how we’ll get home!).

    1. Hi Jonathan, the last American Airlines flight direct Miami to Montevideo flew this week and there will be no more till December. I would recommend you get another flight on another airline. Please note, today is the *last day* to fly to those destinations the Uruguay government has designated ‘high risk’ until further notice. Stay safe! — Karen

  7. Thank you for spreading good information, dear Guru. We were feeling about glum about cancelling some of our social plans, but then remembered we can go out to the park, walk on the Rambla and look out the window. Remember those people on the cruise locked for 2 weeks in a tiny stateroom with no windows? That is a sacrifice. So no whinging!!! Uruguay is staying ahead of this deadly virus, even if the measures seem extreme. Congratulations to the new government for taking the advice of public health professionals. Jorge Drexler’s new song is beautiful- when you meet a friend, greet them with your soul- kisses and hugs will come back later. For now, look the people you meet right in the eye, so they know you care about them!

    1. So right, Daina! There’s plenty of space in Uruguay for walking and maintaining your solitude. Maybe I’ll see you on the Rambla one of these days 🙂 — Stay safe, Karen

    2. Thank you for maintaining this updated information. I do think it’s a real service to people.

      1. So nice of you to say, thank you, Laura! It is so important for our motivation to get your feedback.

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