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A testing center in Montevideo. Photo: Eitan Abramovich/AFP via Getty

Montevideo — For almost a year, Uruguay was an oasis in the hardest-hit region on the planet.

Flashback: Not only did the South American country manage to keep cases low after shutting itself off from the world last March, but it also managed to avoid most of the vitriolic political confrontation other countries in the region experienced during the pandemic.

Uruguay never even imposed a lockdown, relying instead on voluntary decisions by the public. There were few better places to be as the pandemic swept the region.

  • But everything started to change last December with a new variant arriving from neighboring Brazil.

Driving the news: Uruguay now has the fourth-highest per capita rate of new cases anywhere in the world, trailing only small island countries.

Yes, but: Uruguay also has one of the world's fastest vaccination rates, vaccinating more than 1% of the population each day.

  • Currently, 30% are fully vaccinated and 55% have had at least one dose.

State of play: The government has declined to lock the country down, gambling that the vaccination program will drive the numbers down and that investments made in intensive care capacity will keep the hospital system afloat.

  • The weird thing, especially for someone who spends days in a newsroom under the pressure of this terrible news, is that the general public seems OK with the present situation.
  • President Luis Lacalle Pou has a 55% approval rating, and the public health secretary's is over 65%. Even many opposition voters favor Lacalle Pou's “responsible freedom” strategy.

What to watch: It's now a race between the virus and the vaccines. Who will win, and at what cost?

Go deeper

Updated Aug 23, 2021 - Health

PM extends New Zealand lockdown, says elimination goal "absolutely" right

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reacts during a COVID-19 response update at Parliament on Saturday in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Robert Kitchin/Pool/Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that New Zealand's pandemic elimination strategy was working, as she announced an extension to the nationwide lockdown due to a growing COVID-19 Delta outbreak.

Why it matters: NZ locked down last Tuesday after detecting the first community case in nearly six months — marking the arrival of the Delta variant in the island nation. The cluster has grown to 107 cases, with 35 more people testing positive for the virus Monday.

33 mins ago - Health

Student's death renews calls for schools to stock opioid overdose drug

Photo: Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

A Connecticut student's death has renewed calls for schools to stock and administer naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Why it matters: U.S. drug overdose fatalities reached six figures in a 12-month period for the first time in November, and synthetic or natural opioids were the cause of a majority of the overdoses.

34 mins ago - Sports

Olympians avoiding COVID at all costs ahead of Beijing Games

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

10 days out from the Olympics, athletes around the world are battening down the hatches in hopes of making it to Beijing COVID-free.

Why it matters: The Beijing bubble — a closed-loop system meant to shut off the outside world entirely — is the strictest ever created for a global sporting event.