The case of Uruguay – that inauspicious, high-income utopia south of Brazil – seemed like everything of which the lockdown lobby had dreamed. A hard imposition of lockdown policies early in the pandemic. No one leaves their homes. No travel. Mask up. Keep the virus out. Crush it with coercion. No crowds! No fun allowed!
And boom: it worked. Covid stayed away! For the world press, Uruguay was the ideal. It was not Brazil with its Trump-like president and federalist chaos. Uruguay officials behaved with intelligence, pushing the most extreme lockdown policies recommended by the WTO. By comparison, Uruguay was stiffer and stricter even than the US or the UK. The people went along.
And there we go: perfect virus control. Be like Uruguay, they said.
- Uruguay and Paraguay achieve near-total victory over coronavirus (June 25, 2020)
In Midst of Covid Chaos, One Latin American Nation Gets It Right (June 30, 2020)
Uruguay wages successful fight against COVID-19 (August 22, 2020)
It gets better. The “scholars” got involved in the party. Hats off to the great Uruguay!:
- Uruguay wages successful fight against COVID-19 (September 18, 2020)
The International Monetary Fund jumped into the fashion fray. A “fact finding mission” yielded a report dated (if you can believe it) May 25, 2021, said the following:
The policy response to the pandemic effectively deployed available policy space while balancing medium-term objectives. The government’s efforts have simultaneously focused on mitigating the economic and social effects of the pandemic while advancing reforms to tackle pre-existing macroeconomic imbalances and boost potential growth.
The successful handling of the health crisis kept a low case count for much of 2020, while preventing large-scale lockdowns and, thus, limiting the impact on economic activity. While the situation deteriorated markedly in recent months, the country’s fast vaccine rollout is commendable and should allow for a prompt reopening of the economy.
Wow, that’s some seriously high praise for a wicked crackdown on all essential rights and freedoms. Guess that’s what you have to do, right? So says the IMF. And yet these bureaucratic reports take time. How could the IMF have known what was about to happen?
That report – which probably took months to get approved by layers of editors – was surely finished before 250,000 cases and 4,000 deaths hit the country in 2021. Suppression worked great until it completely stopped working.
How, for example, could the IMF have known that the New York Times would have run the following nearly two weeks before the IMF’s “final” report?
Uruguay has the world’s highest death toll per capita: “For most of the past year, Uruguay was held up as an example for keeping the coronavirus from spreading widely as neighboring countries grappled with soaring death tolls. Uruguay’s good fortune has run out. In the last week, the small South American nation’s Covid-19 death rate per capita was the highest in the world.”
So the virus broke through after all, huh? It’s true the charts look terrible. But this might be geography, not policy driving outcomes. Indeed, I would not say that Uruguay is a disaster. It is what it is, consistent with this virus that has outsmarted every government in the world. The demographics of severe outcomes there are the same here as they are everywhere in the world.
The virus is a threat at the level of 94% to the elderly and sick and mostly a nuisance at 99.98% to most everyone else. For the healthy under 65, it is mostly mild. For kids, nearly nonexistent. It’s severe for others, as any new virus would be. The important point is not that Uruguay is the killing fields but rather that the country that all experts in the world praised for successful suppression had utterly failed to do just that.
All experience suggests that the virus is going to come. The virus is going to do its thing. You can defer to it and protect the vulnerable as best you can. Otherwise you have a choice: crush social and market functioning and delay the problem or allow the non-vulnerable to get on with their lives exactly as nations have chosen to do for hundreds of years in the face of a new pathogen.
What’s striking about the case of Uruguay is how it was held up as the model by media and intellectuals the world over. There is no need for public health to defer to the power of a virus! Surely intellectuals with states to do their bidding can overpower any force in the world, even that which is invisible and ubiquitous!
Let this nasty Coronavirus be the test, they said. Let government officials display once and for all the powerful miracles of which they are capable, provided they are given a free hand to do what they will and the people fully comply!
Uruguay did everything right, and then everything went wrong. If you are willing to look and consider honestly, what we have with the case of Covid-19 is the greatest failure of expertise in our lifetimes, and an awesome and transformative case of the utter failure of state power to achieve what it had promised to achieve provided we give up all our rights and liberties.
We did what we were supposed to do. What do we have to show for it? What do Uruguayans have to show for it? If the response to this fiasco is a sense of global fury at the experts who failed us, that would not seem entirely disproportionate or unjustified. And, yes, that now includes the International Monetary Fund.