Context and Health Protocols for the 2020 Municipal Elections in Uruguay

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 31 (En Español)

On March 13, 2020, through decree no. 93/020, the Executive Power declared the State of National Sanitary Emergency following four cases of coronavirus. Thereafter, multiple activities throughout the country were cancelled and closed. Some of the first activities to close were primary and secondary schooling as well sports clubs, shopping mall and other commerce. All public cultural and social performances were cancelled as well as any event which could prompt an agglomeration of people.

In this context, the May 10 municipal elections, which usually take place every month of May after the presidential ones were cancelled by resolution of the country’s Electoral Court and after confirmation from the Legislative Power. The change of date was confirmed in Parliament almost unanimously. The increase of coronavirus cases was seen as the main reason behind the cancellation of May elections and the change in date. In the same resolution, a new date was fixed for September 27, 2020.

Different sectors within the Uruguayan society, including doctors, requested multiple times an obligatory quarantine. It never took place. On the country, certain activities were allowed to open gradually and in June 2020 classes were allowed to take place with different levels of in-person classes. The government asked each citizen for “responsible liberty.” Cases were maintained relatively slow, despite some outbreaks taking place generally along its border with Brazil. All these outbreaks were controlled after a short period of time.

On June 2020, the country managed to have three consecutive days with zero confirmed cases and on June 11, Uruguay had a total of 37 cases and 23 fatalities. Despite these numbers, the country continued to be an example for the rest of the world on how to control the pandemic and Uruguayans overall supported the government’s decisions. With the extension of some of the emergency measures and a certain fatigue among the population, the government has had to appeal more and more to the citizens’ “responsible liberty” and to insist on a constant social distancing. Relatively speaking, the low levels of confirmed cases was encouraging and the country continued to be in the green zone, based on Harvard COVID risk levels.

Within this context, municipal elections took place in Uruguay on September 27, 2020. Through its note no. 10976, the country’s Electoral Court published the sanitary and health protocol to be implemented during the electoral process. The measures include the use of hand sanitizers, face masks, social distancing and a designated “facilitator” to enforce the protocol as well as kits for each voting site. Furthermore, other rules were enacted such as to show your voting ID without having to hand it out, not to close your voting envelope with saliva and to remove your face mask for a few seconds to be identified.

The sanitary and health protocol was respected as much as possible during the electoral process, especially when it came to the use of hand sanitizers, face masks and social distancing among voters. However, some rules were not respected among the tables used in various polling sites because of the lack of physical space available. Furthermore, the elections mobilized a lot of people from the capital city to inland towns and from aboard, when almost 6000 Uruguayans travelled to the country just to vote on that day. Besides the health protocols, elections did not count with the usual festivities and rallies due to the risk of contagion. A significant police presence was also noted throughout the country.

Only two weeks after the municipal elections, the cases began to increase from 12 daily confirmed cases to 23 per day. The Ministry of Public Health concluded that this increase could be the result of two events: the massive Walk for Diversity which took place in Montevideo on September 25 and/or the municipal elections of September 27. Considering the significance movement of people during the electoral process and the rapid increase of cases throughout the country, the new cases are easily related to the scrutiny. As noted by the president of the State Health Services Administration (ASSE in Spanish), Leonardo Cipriani, in November 2020, confirmed cases of coronavirus haven’t ceased to increase since the municipal elections. Some noteworthy outbreaks include those in Montevideo, Rocha and Rivera.

As the months continue, the situation has only worsen. The traditional holidays such as Christmas and New Years, together with summer and vacation time have exacerbated the situation in the country considering the significant movement of people. On January 18, 2021, the country surpassed its own daily rates with an increase of 15% and a new record of 1200 cases in one day. Uruguay entered the “red zone” as indicted by the Harvard COVID index and eventually left it with 7926 active cases and 319 fatalities. The overwhelming majority of these new cases appeared over the last three months.

By Leonor Porras Segurola

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