Movies and vaccines: Uruguay’s main airport reinvents itself during pandemic

By Santiago Carbone

Montevideo, May 21 (EFE).- Several vehicles roll onto the parking lot of the Carrasco International Airport outside Uruguay’s capital, although none of their occupants have a flight to catch.

Instead, one of the passengers of an SUV and another riding in a small car have arrived at the country’s main air terminal to receive a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Many months earlier, during the frigid Southern Hemisphere winter, films were shown on a giant screen at that same airport for cinephiles unable to visit Montevideo’s traditional movie theaters due to coronavirus restrictions.

The onset of the pandemic in Uruguay in early 2020 changed everything and reduced that airport’s operations by 99 percent, Diego Arrosa, CEO of Corporacion America (parent group to Puerta del Sur, the concession holder of the air terminal) in Uruguay, told Efe.

The airport was left with two choices when the country’s health emergency was first declared on March 13, 2020, he said: “Become a supporting actor and wait for everything to pass or take the lead and make an impact.”

Opting for the latter approach, the airport’s hangars were used to prepare around 160,000 food baskets for distribution to needy people adversely affected by the coronavirus-triggered stay-at-home orders.

Film screenings and concerts for small groups of people also were organized to provide a bit of color and entertainment in an otherwise dark 2020.

And all eyes in that nation of roughly 3.5 million people turned to that facility when on Feb. 25 it received an initial shipment of 192,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses, a moment celebrated like a World Cup goal by Uruguay’s national side.

Even though the frequency of flights is still down sharply from pre-pandemic levels and the country’s borders remain closed to non-resident foreigners, Arrosa said preparations are being made for a return to normal operations.

“Our focus now is on starting to open and resuming connectivity as soon as possible because Uruguayans need to travel again and receive tourists” to reactivate the economy, he said.

The CEO added that the airport had spent years working to digitize the entire passenger experience and in 2018 became the first air terminal in Latin America to extend the use of biometric technology to all passenger interaction stages, with travelers now able to board their flights after undergoing a simple face scan and not needing to show their passports or boarding passes.

“With the pandemic, that’s become a basic necessity, so I think that’s also going to be something that helps us accelerate connectivity. And that’s a very good thing,” Arrosa said.

A private laboratory also has been installed at the airport so departing passengers can take the PCR test required in their country of destination.

But even as Uruguay’s main airport prepares for heavier passenger traffic, it continues to fulfill a vital role during the health emergency by serving as the landing site for weekly vaccine shipments and doing its part to bolster the ranks of the inoculated. EFE


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