Things here in Panama continue to shut down more and more as the virus progresses. Last night the news said there are 345 cases in Panama, 6 deaths, 8 cases in Chiriquí (our province) 2 in the town just up the road from us, and one in Boquete, the expat center where our band plays. One death was a 13 year old girl.
The curfew has been expanded to 5pm-5am, and there is talk of tightening it down a lot more. If so, you will be allowed out for a hour a day, the hour to be determined by the last number on your ID. All buses in David have been suspended, and there are no buses traveling around the country either. There are numerous checkpoints around the country also to keep people from traveling out of their areas, and especially to keep people from traveling out of Panama City which has the majority of the cases, and all the deaths. I have heard about a few humanitarian flights out of the country but in general, all planes are grounded.
Yesterday there was news that they were washing and disinfecting the streets in downtown David. Today there is news that they are disinfecting all vehicles going into Volcan and the highlands. The majority of the produce for the country is grown there so it’s critical to keep that area safe and those farmers on the job.
Everyone is being urged to stay home by everyone in authority and every media outlet or risk heavy fines and possible criminal charges, especially if you are under quarantine orders. Unfortunately, like everywhere, not everyone is in compliance and they have even found infected, quarantined people out and about, which is totally not cool. Thus, the talk of major restrictions.
We went grocery shopping yesterday and saw first hand the measures being taken. Stores are closed and padlocked except for essential stores – supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, etc. Social distancing is required at all times.
We arrived at the shopping area to find that DoIt Center, the hardware store was open but quieter than usual. There was a pump bottle of hand sanitizer for everyone’s use just inside the door, and lines on the floor to separate people at checkout. Arrocha (pharmacy and general almost everything store) was also open but it was almost empty.
I had plenty of time to visit other stores while we waited in the supermarket (El Rey) line. The line didn’t seem that huge but it took forever – 2 1/2 hours for us, and the line was twice as long by the time we got close to the supermarket door. People were observing social distancing, some had masks, and a few had gloves. I saw a couple policemen making the rounds, and there was a cleaning person mopping the floor and wiping down all surfaces.
I wasn’t sure what was going on in the supermarket. When one shopper came out, they would let another in (only one per family or group) but people came out who hadn’t been very far in front of us in line. When we finally got to the front of the line, they let in 20 people at once. There were NO shoppers at all in the store when our group came in. There seemed to be the usual number of check out people and bag boys, though of course they were all hanging around with nothing to do at the time. But, the store was very well stocked. I got everything on my list which is unusual. Everything! Much better than I expected.
We also bought gas for the kitchen (we use gas cans, kind of like for a BBQ and when one runs empty, you go to the store and exchange it for a full one. $5.12, lasts about a month). We stopped at the convenience store on our way out and their delivery hadn’t come in yet, but we took so long shopping that by the time we came back we were able to exchange our gas can. Now we are STOCKED UP! The freezer is full, the kitchen is full, we have gas for both the kitchen and the cars (not that we are going anywhere), and some cash on hand just in case. We probably don’t need to leave the house for a month, probably two.
Leaving the house now feels like leaving a “safe zone”. Cases of the virus are increasing every day, and in our province as well. There was one in Chiriqui, then three, and yesterday the count was up to eight, including two in the town right up the road, and another in Boquete where our band plays. If there are active cases identified you know there are more out there that nobody knows about yet. I don’t want to get sick or much worse, become one of the carriers who is spreading the virus around.
I continue to be very happy with Panama’s management of this epidemic. Word is that they have bought millions of doses of antiviral drugs that have been found to be helpful against this virus. Shipments of test kits, masks, ventilators, and other supplies that were ordered continue to arrive. They continue to track every case and quarantine everyone who may have been exposed and they have a 5 tier plan of action which covers identification, testing, monitoring, in home visits, health teams in clinics, hospital and ICU beds, and more beds for recovering people who aren’t well enough to go home. Of course there are rumors and confusion but in general, I feel like the leadership has been really leading and making sensible decisions, even though they are difficult. When it’s a choice between the economy or lives, they are going for saving lives all the way. There will be economic help coming as soon as possible but right now, lets keep people alive.
So, life in a crazy situation. I feel like this is the best possible place I could be. I wish you all well! Please stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy.