Vaccine tourism, a lifeline for Uruguay's battered sector

This initiative seeks to attract tourists who, in addition to being interested in the attractions of the South American country, want to receive the vaccinations they cannot get in their own countries
Nathalia Aguilar/EPA  -   Sanitarios hacen pruebas de COVID-19

Nathalia Aguilar/EPA  -   Sanitarians test COVID-19

In a continent hard hit by COVID-19, with less than 15 percent of the population fully inoculated in most countries, Uruguay wants to develop vaccine tourism to boost a sector that has been devastated by the pandemic.

This initiative, promoted by legislators, departmental (provincial) governments and the private sector, seeks to attract tourists who, in addition to being interested in the attractions of the South American country, want to put their arms out to receive the vaccines they cannot get in their own countries.

"For those tourists who are not vaccinated, our proposal is that they enter the country with a negative PCR, and then they go through a safe-conduct to a hotel where they have to stay for seven days. Then a PCR test is done again and they are given the vaccine. If the second test is negative, they can travel freely," Nibia Reisch, a member of the Colorado Party (PC, centre-right), told Efe.

PHOTO/REUTERS – Pacientes de COVID-19
PHOTO/REUTERS - Patients of COVID-19

According to the ruling party's deputy, this idea has already been passed on to Álvaro Delgado, Secretary of the Presidency, and a meeting is expected in the next few days with authorities from the Ministry of Public Health (MSP).

Uruguay's borders are currently closed. However, the recent drop in the number of positive cases and deaths from covid-19 - despite the fact that April, May and June were the worst months of the pandemic - suggests that they could be reopened by the southern spring (autumn in the northern hemisphere).

High immunisation

As of Monday, 2,542,179 people had received at least one of the two doses of the Chinese vaccine Sinovac, the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca or the American Pfizer, with 60.51% of the Uruguayan population having received the full immunisation schedule. 

This high percentage means that Uruguay, despite the possibility of the government offering a third booster dose, could imitate the strategy of countries such as the United States - or, as it announced it would also do in Cuba - of offering tourists the possibility of being vaccinated.

OPS/Karen González  -   Uruguay quiere desarrollar un turismo de vacunas para impulsar un sector que se ha visto devastado en la pandemia
PAHO/Karen González - Uruguay aims to develop vaccine tourism to boost a sector that has been devastated in the pandemic

Citizens from several Latin American countries, including Uruguay, have travelled to the United States in recent months to get vaccinated.

"What we are aiming to do is also to encourage the tourism sector, which has been extremely hard hit and which is an important driving force in our country," the legislator emphasises.

She also explained that the hotels themselves could assume the purchase of the vaccines, so this proposal would not generate major costs for the country. 

For his part, the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Remo Monzeglio, told Efe that "it is feasible" to think that the country could have "idle vaccination capacity", which would allow a measure such as the one proposed by the legislator to be applied. 

AP/NATACHA PISARENKO - Uruguay quiere desarrollar un turismo de vacunas para impulsar un sector que se ha visto devastado en la pandemia
AP/NATACHA PISARENKO - Uruguay wants to develop vaccine tourism to boost a sector that has been devastated in the pandemic.

"It would mark not only an important commitment to tourism, but also a message of solidarity with other countries that do not have the same rate of vaccination as Uruguay," he explained.

For the deputy minister, as soon as Uruguay opens its borders, tourism "will be reactivated", despite the fact that, since the health emergency was declared on 13 March 2020, it has functioned with domestic tourism. "Never before" have Uruguayans been so keen to get to know their own country, he points out.

Undoubtedly, one of the departments that has been most affected by the absence of tourists is Maldonado (southeast), due to the fact that it is home to one of the most popular places in South America, Punta del Este, with a high influx of mainly Argentines.

The department's director of tourism, Martín Laventure, explained to Efe that this initiative has the support of the local mayor, Enrique Antía, and the private sector.

REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN  -   Una mujer recibe una dosis de la vacuna Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) contra la enfermedad del coronavirus (COVID-19)
REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN - A woman receives a dose of Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

"In a short time, Uruguay will reach a significant number of its population vaccinated. Because it is good to emphasise that this is always after the entire Uruguayan population has been vaccinated," he stresses.

For Laventure, both the country and his department are capable of handling a possible massive influx of tourists interested in receiving a vaccine - as has happened in other parts of the world - and this is reflected in the good inoculation capacity that the system has demonstrated in recent months.

Although there is still some way to go, and although it would not be a proposal for immediate implementation, Uruguay could become a supplier of vaccines to a region that, in many cases, lacks them.