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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.

Updated 8 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan police reform negotiations end without deal

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) with Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the Capitol in May 2021. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Bipartisan talks on reforming police tactics and accountability, prompted by George Floyd's murder in May 2020, have ended without a compromise, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a key negotiator, said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Lawmakers, led by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Booker, had been working toward a bipartisan deal for months but things fell apart due to disagreements on qualified immunity and other issues.

Federal Reserve scales back expectations for economic recovery as Delta variant weighs

Fed chair Jerome Powell during a congressional hearing last year. (Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Fed downgraded near-term expectations for the economy and the labor market, alongside hotter-than-expected inflation, in new estimates out on Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's the first time those closely-watched estimates reflect impact from the delta variant that's already rattled the labor market. Still, Fed chairman Jerome Powell said enough progress has been made to begin to pull back emergency-era measures that have supported the economy.