By Federico Anfitti
Rivera, Uruguay, Apr 2 (efe-epa).- Here where the border between Uruguay and Brazil – second in the world in coronavirus deaths – is a mere technicality, residents remain surprisingly complacent about Covid-19, with the result that Rivera’s health care system is on the verge of being overwhelmed.
From the start of the pandemic, Uruguayan health officials saw Rivera and the surrounding province of the same name as a potential Achilles heel.
Inhabitants of Rivera and the neighboring Brazilian city of Santana do Livramento are accustomed to crossing the invisible border without a thought.
There are no customs or immigration checks and plenty of people live on one side of the boundary and work on the other. And the region has its own dialect, Portuñol (Portugues-Español).
But as Covid-19 continues to rage in Brazil, with 325,000 fatalities and 12.8 million cases, Uruguay’s central government suspended in-person classes in Rivera’s schools and ordered the tax-free shops that are the backbone of the city’s economy to close until April 12.
Montevideo’s intervention may have come too late, as the intensive care unit at the provincial public hospital is already at 100 percent capacity.
The 1,009 lives claimed by coronavirus in Uruguay include those of 61 residents of Rivera province, with a population of around 100,000.
Uruguay has a total of 108,188 confirmed Covid-19 infections, including 21,979 active cases. While the country as a whole is seeing an average of 66.3 new cases a day for every 100,000 people, the test-positivity rate in Rivera department is 145.27 per 100,000.
The provincial governor, Richard Sander, never responded to Efe’s request for an interview, while the top health official in Rivera, Carlos Sarries, said he was not authorized by the Public Health Ministry to talk to reporters.
Fortunately, the director of the Rivera Provincial Hospital was willing to talk.
The hospital is “in a very worrisome situation,” Florencia Eula told Efe. Responsible for providing health care to 65,000 people, the institution has just 127 beds in all and only seven in the ICU.
While a mechanism exists to transfer patients to other hospitals in the public network, Eula expressed concern about the potential for delays that could prove lethal “We work every day trying to prevent it, but that is on the table and could happen at any moment. Today we have beds available in other places to provide the appropriate attention to critical patients,” she said.
“But if these numbers don’t drop at some point (the beds) will fill up completely and we will find ourselves unable to transfer patients,” Eula said.
Should things reach that point, doctors would be faced with having to make decisions about who lives and who dies, the hospital director said.
On the bright side, the Uruguayan government is prioritizing the area in vaccine deliveries. Rivera leads the 19 provinces in the percentage of people vaccinated, as a third of the population have had at least one dose. EFE fa/dr