Pricesmart is Panama’s version of Costco, a membership store that’s especially good for stocking up and bulk items.
Panama is currently in an emergency lockdown state because of the Coronavirus threat. Borders are closed to all but citizens and residents and everyone coming in is immediately quarantined for 14 days (at home). Schools are closed, restaurants are take out only, and all concerts, sporting events, and anything that would draw any sort of crowd is cancelled. We are under at a 9pm-5am curfew, and all liquor sales are even being suspended tonight.
All this can seem drastic and it’s a real hardship for people and businesses, but these strict measures seem to be working. Check out this page with stats on the progression of the coronavirus. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries We have 69 cases but no new cases identified today, a rarity on this list.
Anyway, back to shopping. 50 people are allowed in a store or supermarket at one time, so there are lines outside all the supermarkets. Pricesmart is taking precautions VERY seriously! We arrived at 8:30 (they are open longer hours 8am-10pm to help with the lines). We waited in line probably 30-40 minutes, and the line was getting longer as we waited. It seemed they let in a certain number of people and then waited until they were done shopping, and then let in the next group of people. Only one person per membership was allowed in so I did the shopping. There was a security guard monitoring the line and making sure people stayed the required 1 meter apart.
When we made it in, we were all give a big dollop of hand sanitizer by a guy waiting inside the door. There was an overhead announcement playing continuously reminding people to stay one meter apart, reminding people not to overbuy so there would be enough supplies for everyone, recommending we pay with a credit card to avoid handling cash, and I don’t remember exactly what else. The store seemed to be well stocked. I didn’t check the toilet paper, preferring to be efficient and follow my list so I could get on with it and make room for the people waiting, but almost everything on my list was available. (It wouldn’t be normal Panama if everything on your list could be found!) I didn’t see it myself, but someone else share a photo of a list posted that says you can only buy 3 of the things on the list – coffee, milk, sugar, beans, rice, paper products, cleaning supplies, diapers, etc.
Check out went rather quickly since there were so few people in line. The workers had hand sanitizer at their stations and used it between every customer. We were again separated by lines on the floor so we wouldn’t get to close to other people waiting in line.
Driving around though (we just went down the Panamerican highway from one side of town to the other) things look pretty normal. Traffic was light at the early hour, but people are going about their daily business.
It’s kind of a strange experience living under these circumstances but we are so fortunate. We have income so we’re not worried about losing work, and with our freezer we can tolerate extended periods without leaving the house. We don’t have kids or anyone to worry about besides ourselves, and we have plenty to keep us busy at home. I feel for the businesses that have to be struggling now though, and people who depend on their work to pay the bills. The government is working on measures to help but that can’t offset all the difficulties.
But, I digress. This is supposed to be about shopping today. I notice the Panamanians waiting in line were very chill and patient, mostly entertaining themselves with their phones. I found much less smiling and greeting as I made my way around the store though, so I hope this doesn’t put a social as well as physical distance between people. But I am really really grateful for what Panama is doing to keep us as safe as possible, and for how quickly they acted once the treat was identified. If only this was so the world over!