The government of Uruguay has ordered all schools and public offices to remain closed at least until the end of Tourism (Easter) Week, President Luis Lacalle Pou announced Tuesday evening during a press conference after a long Cabinet Meeting with Ministers.
Lacalle reached his decision after conferring with his aides and confirming the P1 variant of the coronavirus, from Manaus (Brazil), was circulating heavily in various states, including Montevideo.
“We are not in favor of total lockdown or mandatory quarantine,” said Lacalle as he called for individual responsibility and solidarity. “Stay within your bubble and your family circle,” he added. On a more positive note, the president celebrated the signing of an agreement to purchase another 1,250,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine and was optimistic about Uruguay's immunization effort.
Only those state-run agencies which provide “essential services” are going to remain operational, Lacalle explained. The country's borders will remain closed while public shows and gatherings have also been banned until April 12, among other measures aimed at curbing infections.
Lacalle Pou emphatically announced that law enforcement has been instructed to use force if necessary to dissolve any agglomeration in the public space. This makes reference to events that happened in the past month when mass gatherings and marches were registered, especially in Montevideo. One of them was last International Women's Day, which gathered thousands of people in the streets on 8 March, and law enforcement did not act - despite a law against the right of reunion being in force due to the pandemic - for fear of the political cost of repressing a feminist event.
In the 24 hours prior to this decision, 2,682 new cases of Covid-19 and 19 deaths were detected, according to the National Emergency System (Sinae), which reported that in less than 24 hours the cases doubled and the barrier of 2,500 people infected in one single day had been surpassed. With the results of Wednesday, the record number a record number of 14.826 patients with the infection.
The government has also ordered bars to close by midnight, duty free shops are not to operate throughout the country, while social events and parties will be prohibited.
Professional sporting events are to remain as scheduled for the time being, but amateur clubs and gyms will be closed at least until April 12.
Asked about casinos, Lacalle admitted there was some pressure from local mayors for whom the activity is very significant and said he favoured a limited schedule. Meanwhile, the Salto and Paysandú hot springs shall remain closed during Tourism Week, despite reservations reaching almost 100 per cent, according to the facilities' operators who had hoped to reverse their financial deficits.
Lacalle also explained that ”we have taken measures aimed at reducing mobility and once again government action must necessarily be accompanied by individual behaviours.”
The measures are intended to focus on the curb of admissions to Intensive Care Units, also leading the Health Ministry to mandate the suspension of all non-vital surgical procedures until April 30.
Other measures announced by Lacalle include the return of the covid-19 tax on State workers’ salaries for two months. The proceeds will be used to subsidise activities damaged by reduced mobility and the sectors most affected by the measures.