Gonzalo Alvarez, a player in Uruguay’s premier basketball league, started feeling the symptoms a few days after a game: fatigue, headaches, lower back pain, loss of taste and smell.
A test confirmed his suspicion: covid-19. But he wasn’t the only one. Five teammates, six opponents and an assistant coach in Defensor Sporting’s victory over Capitol last month also fell ill.
In the early days of the pandemic, Uruguay was a global model. Leaders in the progressive, stable, high-income nation united behind science-based measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Low case counts enabled it to reopen schools and businesses before many of its more virulent neighbors.
But now the nation of 3.5 million is trending in the wrong direction. For several days in April, Uruguay had the world’s highest daily case count per capita. More than 92,000 people were diagnosed with covid-19 during the month, 42 percent of the country’s total since the start of the pandemic. Authorities reported 1,642 deaths, more than four times the toll in March.
The country, wedged between Brazil and Argentina on South America’s Atlantic Coast, has been unable to avoid the deadly wave now engulfing the continent. South America leads the world in new cases and deaths per capita, and Uruguay leads South America in both.
Analysts blame a range of factors, from a breakdown in social distancing to the arrival of the P.1 variant, spawned next door in Brazil. The popular sportscaster Alberto Sonsol died in April, as did a pregnant woman — a first for the country — and then another.
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