Uruguay extends closure of frontier til end of January: concern with clandestine partying

The announcement by Lacalle Pou followed a meeting of the ministerial cabinet and a Tuesday hearing in Congress to report on the current pandemic situation

MONTEVIDEO, Jan 8, 2021: Uruguay announced on Wednesday a raft of new measures to help contain the growing number of Covid-19 positive cases which if sustained could strain hospital and sanitary capacities. The announcement followed a meeting of the ministerial cabinet and a Tuesday hearing in Congress to report on the current pandemic situation, immunization plans and which vaccines Uruguay is negotiating to acquire. President Luis Lacalle Pou said that the current closure of frontiers which had been announced last December 21, including a more specific definition of the right of assembly, will be extended until the end of January, with weekly reviews, based on the number of positive cases that have peaked recently, because of a surge in agglomerations coinciding with the end of the school year and the beginning of summer holidays.

The Uruguayan president in a message to the tourist industry said that bars and restaurants, which currently have to close by midnight, will now enjoy the extension of a couple of extra hours, that is to two in the morning. He added that each county Emergency Coordinator Center will decide if the measure can be implemented in its area of influence. The extension of working hours for bars and restaurants was decided because “there are protocols and controls”, said the president underlined that “the messy partying situation is taking place outdoors, it's clandestine” and anticipated a greater intensification and coordination to control outdoor celebrations and festivities. Likewise some public shows, theaters, cinemas, will be allowed but with a limited number of spectators. Soccer and basketball official matches can resume but with no public present. Government staff when possible will be encouraged to work from homes.

The control of sanitary protocols which must be respected by companies and businesses will be intensified, and those not complying will be exposed to fines and closure. At the same time Lacalle Pou admitted that the number swabbing has decreased but referred it “to less demand and the fact that some staff have gone on holidays”. Nevertheless testing will increase particularly in the capital Montevideo and in Rivera, in the Brazilian border, where twin cities enjoy a shared bi-national urban area. As to the possible vaccines to be acquired by Uruguay to begin massive inoculation, Lacalle Pou said there are ongoing negotiations with several laboratories, “on numbers and delivery times”, but also admitted there is “a global fierce competition, and Uruguay and its small market is not necessarily that attractive for some of labs”.

But anyhow “we are keeping track and will purchase the most efficient and safest vaccine”. The president also anticipated that in a few months, “people will have access to special passport for those vaccinated, which will enable them to again travel and visit other countries”. Once the contract is signed “we will make the announcement, I'll be the first to let you know, which, how, when and where, give me a few more days”. On Wednesday also Uruguay's National Emergency System, SINAE, announced 947 coronavirus positive cases in the last 24 hours, and some 6,534 swab tests. SINAE also reported another four deaths (aged 89,88,67 and 65) which brings the total number since March to 221 dead. Finally there is a total of 6,287 positive cases, of which 72 are in ICUs.

Uruguay Tax Breaks to Fuel 2021 COVID-19 Recovery, Says Developer

MONTEVIDEO, Dec 18, 2020 (Bloomberg):: Even as the pandemic rages on, Uruguay’s largest mall developer is pushing ahead with new projects, buoyed by government tax breaks that he says will contribute to an investment-led recovery. Carlos Lecueder, who manages nine shopping centers and half a dozen office towers, is planning $60 million in projects including a new shopping center that will begin construction in 2021. That could grow to as much as $100 million if he can convince investors to move forward with a partnership to build a World Trade Center-branded office tower in the coast resort of Punta del Este.

President Luis Lacalle Pou, who took office March 1, expanded tax breaks for new businesses and construction projects to revive an economy that analysts see growing 3.4% in 2021 after Covid-19 causes it to shrink an estimated 4.3% this year. “Today, there are a series of tax benefits the likes of which have rarely been seen,” said Lecueder, who owns minority stakes in the malls and a free-trade zone that is finishing its second tower this month. “I think Uruguay is going to see an important increase in investment next year.”

Lecueder’s plans represent an optimistic bet on the future of commercial real estate at a time when work from home policies and e-commerce are seeing a boost from pandemic stay-at-home measures. He expects retail sales at his malls to fall about 30% this year after the government ordered them closed for almost three months early in the pandemic and finish next year 10% below 2019 levels. Still, Lecueder is confident that Uruguayans’ love of socializing and shopping in malls means brick and mortar stores will continue to dominate the local retail industry for at least the next five years even as e-commerce gains market share.

Uruguay’s global services industry may even benefit from the pandemic, he added, as multinational companies turn to the country’s free-trade zones to qualify for tax breaks and house their accounting, financial and IT services. Rules that require employees in free zone to be based in those areas have been temporarily waived to allow them to work from home during the pandemic. Lecueder’s WTC Montevideo Free Zone has already leased 40% of its new tower, which he sees rising to 70%