Uruguay urges 'responsible freedom' after daily coronavirus cases exceed 100

MONTEVIDEO, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Uruguay recorded 104 new coronavirus cases in a day for the first time since the pandemic began, sparking concern among government officials that the country could reverse course after a long period of successful containment.

The South American nation of 3.5 million people has confirmed just 4,208 positive cases and 68 deaths since the pandemic began, and has a far lower daily infection rate per capita than its South American neighbors.

The government’s prompt response in March with a voluntary quarantine, widespread tracking of infections and randomized tests led some to dub it the country the New Zealand of Latin America for successfully keeping infections at bay.

But cases are now on the rise with the new daily high of 104 cases confirmed on Tuesday.

President Luis Lacalle Pou has opted for a government campaign to promote “responsible freedom.” Health officials are particularly targeting young people ahead of the tourist season, calling on them to limit social gatherings and not share drinks.

“The health authorities make a special request to the population to reduce the circles of social contact, meeting times, the permanent use of face masks, physical distancing, ventilation and hygiene,” Uruguay’s national emergency system said in a statement.

Officials in the capital, Montevideo, where there are currently 449 active cases, are considering suspending celebrations for carnival, the country’s major festival set to begin in January.

Health Ministry officials have asked laboratories to increase their analysis capacity for coronavirus testing, potentially doubling the current rate of about 4,000 test per day if cases continue to rise. (Reporting by Fabian Werner; Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Nick Macfie)