Panama has been doing a great job in this difficult time, IMO, and I am very glad to be here. Yes, it’s inconvenient and this will be especially hard for businesses. But, we’ve seen the heartbreaking accounts of the situation in Italy where they didn’t get serious fast enough, and we definitely don’t want anything like that happening anywhere else.
As I understand it, the biggest goal is to keep the virus from spreading so fast that the hospitals and health care system become overwhelmed. Maybe the virus will still spread and maybe many people will eventually get it, but if the progress is slow then the sick people won’t all show up at the hospital at the same time, and more lives can be saved. Of course the ideal situation is to stop the spread of the virus entirely, but this may not be realistic.
Panama has closed the borders in an attempt to keep the virus from getting into the country. If you are not a citizen or legal resident, you can’t come in. Within the county, every effort is being made to keep any threat under control, and prevent people from getting close enough to each other to pass along the virus in case they might be contagious and not know it. (more below). I’ve heard that people are even being stopped at the police checkpoint above us on the way to Boquete, and everyone’s ID and temperature is being checked!
As for us, we are off quarantine and doing fine. When we returned from Rome, we were instructed to stay home for 14 days, and we got twice daily calls from the health department to check on us and give us instructions. Even now that we are off quarantine, we were instructed to go out as little as possible, and only for necessities. We were happy to stay home with our well stocked freezer and weekly visits from our produce guy, but I can see how this would be a real hardship for many.
We went out today to do some necessary shopping and found lines at all the supermarkets. Only 50 people at a time are being let in to avoid crowding. Pricesmart (our version of Costco) had lines down the block and around the corner so we didn’t stay.
El Rey (our nearby supermarket) also had a line but we waited about 20 minutes to get in, not bad. There was a guy in a lab coat, gloves, and mask supervising the entrance, and new people were only let in at the rate people were leaving to keep a constant 50 people in the store. There were lines on the floor at the checkouts to keep people separated while they were waiting for a cashier.
Around town though, things felt fairly normal. There was maybe slightly less traffic, but work was being done on construction projects, street vendors were out, and people were moving about on foot, bikes, buses, and taxis as usual. People are aware though. I had time to watch people while we were waiting in line, and I didn’t see any of the common kiss-on-the-cheek greetings. Maybe they didn’t always keep the required distance apart in line, but they weren’t touching each other either. I visited a friend in a nearby hardware store (DoIt) and got the elbow bump greeting, as we have been instructed. I noticed that they had way fewer customers than usual though. I also noticed very few people wearing masks anywhere we went.
I’ve run across a couple things that explain what’s going on and what’s being done in the country better than I can, so I’ll share them here below.
A lawyer sent this out to his clients and it’s making the rounds on social media. I think this is a couple days more current than the one below, which explains the slightly different statistics.
We understand that many of you live abroad and may be anxious to know about the situation on the ground here in Panama with regard to the COVID-19 virus (“Coronavirus”). Fortunately, the number of cases in Panama remains relatively low, with only 55 recorded cases and one fatality since the first incident was confirmed on March 9. Regardless, the Panamanian government has been implementing very strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus:
* Flights originating from Europe and Asia are now prohibited from landing in Panama.
* Passengers on cruise ships that have visited high-risk areas are prohibited from disembarking in Panamanian ports.
* Only Panamanian nationals and foreigners with permanent residency in Panama are permitted to enter the country, and they are required to go into home quarantine for 14 days immediately upon their arrival (effective March 16).
* All citizens have been instructed to remain at home as much as possible during these first few critical weeks (self-isolation). In addition, they are asked to avoid unnecessary travel, especially to the interior of the country. (To date, the virus has largely been contained in the Greater Panama City area, with only six cases reported in the interior.)
* Employers have been asked to enable tele-working options for as many employees as possible, and to stagger work hours for those who must come into the office to reduce the number of travelers on public transit during peak hours.
* Funds have been released for the immediate purchase and additional medical equipment (mechanical ventilators, monitors and intensive care beds) that would be required should the country see a dramatic increase in cases that require hospitalization. Intensive care wards have also been expanded throughout the country’s public hospitals.
* The Gorgas Hospital laboratory has sufficient test kits to keep up with the current demand. However, 24,000 additional test kits are on order, and some will be distributed to private hospitals to ease the possible burden on public facilities should the disease progress.
* Strict fines have been put in place through the Consumer Protection Agency to prohibit price gouging by local merchants. Additionally, merchants have been instructed to restrict the number of essential cleaning and personal hygiene items (hand sanitizer, bleach, alcohol, toilet paper) for sale to an individual to ensure a steady supply for the general population.
* Special financing will be made available to small businesses who require assistance in overcoming the challenges they will undoubtedly face while the country confronts this situation.
* Fairs, conventions, cultural events, religious gatherings, concerts and sporting events have been banned throughout the entire country.
* Access to beaches, rivers and public swimming pools has been banned.
* Bars, discotheques, night clubs, casinos, theaters, cinemas are prohibited from operating.
* Indoor and outdoor playgrounds, gyms, sports fields and courts have been shut down.
* Restaurants may continue to operate but can only offer take-out and delivery options. In-salon dining is prohibited.
* All public and private gatherings of over 50 people are prohibited, with strict fines imposed on those who violate this sanction.
* Regular public education campaigns are being transmitted through the local media and through the cellular telephone network by the Ministry of Health (MINSA) and the National Disaster Response Unit (SINAPROC) as new regulations are issued by the government.
I also saw this excellent post put together by an expat. Thank you for this John Wolff.
This Saturday, March 14 the Ministry of Health (Minsa) informed the Panamanian community that the number of actual cases has risen to 43.
There are 37 in quarantine, 5 are hospitalized (two of them in intensive care), 1 deceased.
23 are women and 20 are men; 2 under 20 y/o, 12 between 20-39 y/o, 22 between 40-59 y/o and 7 between 60-79 y/o. No explanation as to why these demographics are different from what we hear about in other countries.
the most severe symptoms are coughing, fever and runny nose. Also throat pain and difficulty breathing.
Here is the breakdown by location within Panama City:
Panamá Metro with 20, Panamá North with 12, Panamá West with 7 and San Miguelito with 3. By knowing the affected areas the better the containment. No other cases have been identified in Chiriqui or any other part of the interior of the country so far. Some of the infected nationals have been infected by traveling to Italy, Spain, France, the United States, and Cuba, and the others by having contacts with these travelers who came from these nations. The Panamanian Government announced the temporary suspension of commercial flights from countries in Europe and Asia. All those related flights to the transport of medicines, surgical medical supplies, medical equipment and vaccines, and humanitarian aid are excepted from this suspension.
For a small country here are some staggering figueres: 820 laboratory surveillance tests have been carried out. 4,535 travelers have been registered, about 3,104 of them were discharged and 1,431 are kept in home follow-up. I must add that the first case was diagnosed four days ago and this administration is moving fast to keep this thing from getting out of control.
Here is more of the strategy:
Declared a state of national emergency
Issued decree that regulates activities that generate agglomeration
It will suspend for 30 days flights to and from countries in Europe and Asia affected by the new coronavirus COVID-19
To guarantee the health of journalists and government authorities, daily conferences will take place virtually
Creates the National Coordination of Intensive Care, in charge of Dr. Julio Sandoval.
It creates a Network of Laboratory Attention Services that will allow testing of coronaviruses in centers, hospitals and polycentric of the Minsa and the Social Security Fund nationwide
Create home visiting teams to attend to cases of COVID-19
The Panamanian government and MINSA is asking the Panamanian people in Panama City to not travel to the interior of the country this includes not sending their children as well. They are asking to do this out of good will. However, the vice minister of MINSA Mr Francisco Sucre said “Minsa does not want to take drastic measures to bring a sanitary fence to the city, but if we do not obey the instructions of the Minsa and avoid mobilization inland, we are going to be forced to establish a fence in the city and we want to announce it in time ”. What they mean by fence is the establishment of checkpoints on the roads leading in and out of Panama City. The same applies to people going from the interior to the Panama City and returning. Personally I believe they will resort to this as a means to keep the interior safe.
The director of the Social Security Hospitals, Dr Enrique Lau said that the youth is not taking this seriously. They feel invincible and think this will not happen to them. But he is cautioning them that if they do not adhere to hygiene measures and discipline they will transmit the virus to their parents and or grandparents. He was pleading with them in a way, but also been matter of fact.
The Vice Minister of MINSA Mr Sucre explained that “things in Panama must continue, we cannot exceed measures such as closing shops when it is necessary for some to be open. The important thing is not to go to places where we make crowds”.
Finally, they reiterated hygiene measures: constant hand washing, not touching your face, cleaning surfaces that we touch frequently, as a preventive measure.
“The most powerful weapon against the coronavirus is hygiene,” said Mr.Sucre.
Yes, I’m happy with how things are being managed here. Of course in these difficult times, conflicting information comes though sometimes, people are upset and have opinions, and there is no rule book for the perfect way to proceed but I see Panama acting quickly and decisively, which I think is what is needed, difficult as it is. Panamanians are generally a pretty patient and tolerant people and though they are naturally concerned and worried, I see much less freaking out than I’ve heard about in other places.
So, here’s wishing us all luck and health, and whatever else you need to get through this difficult time. And in case you haven’t gotten instructions a hundred times on how to wash your hands, here’s one for you….