Lockdown!

We thought we had lockdown before, but this is an even more serious lockdown. I’m sitting on my terrace tonight and there is no traffic noise, not a car, not a rumble of a truck in the distance, nothing. It’s eerily quiet except for the birds, crickets, and the occasional sound of a neighbor or dog.

There was a 5pm-5am curfew but now there is a total 24 hr./day curfew. There will be no more ignoring the precautions and running around as you wish. Everyone is allowed only one hour out, and which hour is determined by the last number of your ID. This is for going to the supermarket, pharmacy, bank, gas station, or health care. It’s not for exercise, walking the dog, or anything non-essential. The police are out and about to enforce the rules.

The numbers came out today – 558 cases, 115 more than yesterday, 8 deaths, no new deaths since yesterday. The numbers are going up but so is the testing so it’s hard to say if more people are getting sick or more people are being identified. It’s probably both but either way, the new restrictions are said to be indefinite and rumor is that this will be for at least 30 days. That sounds sensible to me.

It’s bedtime so that’s all I’m going to write at the moment. Our produce guy is not allowed out so tomorrow we plan to go down the road to the produce market. It will be interesting to see what is going on.

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It’s Thursday afternoon now, and the quiet continues. We went to the produce market at the allotted time for 65+ folks, 11am-1pm. The market entrances are closed so you stand outside, give them your order and they go get it for you. The workers had gloves and masks, and a couple spray bottles of alcohol were evident for cleaning hands or whatever. We got what we needed and a few extra things for a solo older neighbor lady. Neighbors said the situation at the supermarkets is much better without the long, slow lines, so that’s good in case we need to go. But we’re set for now and should only need another produce run in a week or so.

I got home in time for snack and reading circle time. My grandkids are home, so my daughter had this wonderful idea. We were in a video chat on one tablet, the other grandparents were on another, and we joined the circle while the kids read books and had their snacks. Then it ended with singing Zippity Do Da. It was wonderful to have this connection with my family!

Whoa! I heard a car! nope, its just the neighbor moving his car to the shade of a tree behind the house.

I feel good here though. Yes, this is inconvenient and really difficult for many, but the leadership is watching and acting. The president gave a speech last night  full of information, plans, encouragement, compassion, hope, solidarity in this difficult time, and promises of support and economic relief. I’ll share it in another post. What a contrast with what I’ve been seeing from my native country…. I was going to say home country but this is home now. Thank you Panama for yet one more reason to feel good here.

Posted in Panama | 15 Comments

Waiting in Lines

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.

Posted in Panama | 11 Comments

Life in Lockdown

It seems that pretty much everyone in the world can relate to this, as we all hunker down and stay home to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

I posted yesterday about Panama, who is doing everything possible to keep people safe. Today news came through that hotels are ordered to close. Buses and planes from David (western Panama) to Panama City (east) are shut down, so if you want to fly out of the country from the international airport in Panama City, you have to drive there and make it through numerous checkpoints. If you don’t make it out this weekend with the numerous cancelled flights and closed airports, you aren’t going anywhere since all flights are stopped as of tomorrow midnight. And, to further complicate things, if you make it to Panama City but don’t manage to fly out, you risk being stuck in Panama City since traffic from there to the interior is being closely monitored and restricted. But, there are no available hotels in Panama City…. (or anywhere)

Thank goodness for friends, social media, and good people who are stepping up to do whatever they can in these difficult times. Our neighborhood chat group shares news, prayers and especially lately, lots of jokes to keep everyone’s spirits up.

If you are quarantined, how do you walk your dog?

For us here, our main difference is the lack of band gigs. We usually played on Sunday which means Saturday was spent preparing and practicing. Sunday was for last minute practice, packing up, driving to Boquete, setting up, playing, tearing down, driving home, and eventually winding down so I could sleep. On Monday I was usually tired so that was for cleaning house, unpacking, re-setting up band equipment in the living room, and catching up on correspondence and other low energy things. Tuesday – Friday was time for working on new material, vocal exercises (I’m trying very hard to be a singer who does not suck!) and we would have band practice if we could (which takes another good part of another day).

Now though, every day is a day off. When we finally get back out, we could be almost a new band! So far we have added Otherside, by RHCP, Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, Smells like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, and Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N Roses is in the works. I also drug out New Years Day by U2 that I did a long time ago, to see if I can sing it better now that my voice is stronger. Next… we always have a list that changes day by day so who knows. We can’t really practice as a band since we’re down here and our drummer is up in Boquete, but if we all learn our parts we can usually put things together quite quickly.

I’ve also been cleaning up the yard. It’s hot, dry, windy summer so there are leaves and dead stuff to clean up, but not much weeding since it’s hard for anything to grow right now. We are eagerly looking forward to the return of the rains! Maybe 3 more weeks? And, if I get restless there are always home maintenance projects. Today I worked in the bathroom cleaning out a couple catch-all boxes, and scrubbing the tile floor with comet and a brush. Maybe tomorrow I’ll scrub the shower?

And of course there is always the internet!  Playing balcony bingo in Spain….

Check youtube. There are many videos of people singing together from balconies, exercising together, and even eating together, each family on their own balcony. There are also so many other things on the internet, operas from the Metropolitan Opera, kids books from Audible, virtual tours of museums, many artists streaming their music for free on line, the list goes on and on. Everybody is having a hard time but many good people are contributing whatever they can to ease the pain.

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Well now it’s Saturday evening. News just came through that there has been another death in Panama, a 50 year old female doctor in Panama City. We also have one case in Chiriqui, a bit west of David. There is more and more news of supermarkets not allowing anyone over 60 to shop, which, at 67 and 73 would be a hardship for us (though there is no official notice that this is supposed to be happening). And now, there is also a rumor that we will soon get a notice to stock up for 2 weeks because we will be told to stay home, EVERYBODY, in the house, nobody allowed to leave at all for any reason. Wow… but if everybody is quarantined, maybe this will allow the country to get control of the situation.

I’m really glad to be here, but concerned for my family back in the US. Thankfully though they are all working from home. Both families have young kids without school/childcare though which makes work challenging, but they are home and their jobs/paychecks are continuing, which is huge. I don’t dare think of the devastating economic impact this is having on so many people. My older daughter (who works for the city) says the need for housing, food, and very basis necessities is heartbreaking and overwhelming, and it’s only going to get worse.

Crazy times!  We all do what we can to stay safe and help our neighbors. If you doubt this is real, if you doubt that this is serious, just look at what is going on in Italy. That is truly heartbreaking. Stay home, stay calm, and wash your hands.

 

Posted in Panama | 9 Comments

Panama Coronavirus Response Continues

Yesterday the news came out that all flights in and out of Panama will be stopped on March 22nd. Currently only citizens and residents can come in, but after the 22nd nobody will be able to come in or out of the country. There will be non residents trapped here wondering how this will affect their legality in the country, and I’m sure Panama residents will also be trapped outside of the country. The rumors I’ve heard say it’s almost impossible to go anywhere as more countries close their borders, and as more airlines cancel more and more flights. Wherever you are, chances are that’s where you will be for the foreseeable future.

Within Panama, there are roadblocks to keep people from leaving Panama City and spreading the virus to the rest of the country. You can’t get through unless you can document that you have business in the interior. There is also a curfew from 9pm-5am, and all liquor sales have been banned. Opinion is this will discourage people from behaving irresponsibly, having parties, and spending money on alcohol when people are losing work and will need all their money for basic necessities. Beaches are also closed, as are parks, bars, and anyplace people can gather. Word is that restaurants can serve limited customers, at least at the moment, but take out and delivery are encouraged. There are many rumors going around about everything, of course, and things are changing daily but the changes always seem to be towards less mobility and less opportunity for people to infect each other.

It’s a crazy time not just here, but all over the world. Someone suggested that this is a great time to keep a journal to record this unique experience. I suppose this is one of many activities that have been suggested to keep busy during quarantine. People have been busy on facebook, and our neighborhood WhatsApp group has been going crazy with messages! I’ll have to share some of the jokes and inspiring stories when I get more time.

I saw a great article on the United Nations News website praising Panama for it’s response to the virus. I’ve run it through Google translate for you all and copied it below. I am very very thankful to the authorities here in Panama for doing everything they can to take care of everyone. I know it’s a pain and inconvenient at best, and it will be financially terrible for many, but if we can avoid widespread infection, high numbers of deaths, and an overwhelmed health care system this seems the much better alternative. I only wish a response this strong and effective was the case in every country!

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https://news.un.org/es/story/2020/03/1471462

Panama responded quickly to the epidemic of COVID19, has allocated economic resources, has managed to sequence the virus genome to quickly diagnose cases that appear in the country, has strengthened its health system and has taken measures to isolate citizens. The heads of the UN agencies in the country believe that there are lessons that can be exported to other countries in Latin America.

China and South Korea have been praised by global health authorities and the international press for having responded aggressively and effectively to the coronavirus and successfully curbing the epidemic. But in Latin America there is an example of how the closest response should be: Panama.

The small Central American country has surpassed a hundred cases, but at the moment there is only one deceased.

Panama “has always been one step ahead,” says Gerardo Alfaro, the representative of the Pan American Health Organization in the country in an interview with UN News.

One of the keys has been to start diagnostic tests quickly. “It has allowed us very early to confirm and rule out cases,” says the PAHO representative.

In addition, they have taken them throughout the national territory. “Investments made in real-time PCR kits (test kits) for HIV and tuberculosis are being used. Those same teams are used to run coronavirus tests that give results in half an hour, ”he explains.

In Panama there are 25 teams distributed throughout the country, including in remote areas, such as indigenous regions. The Ministry of Health is acquiring the necessary reagents to have tests in remote places quickly.

Also, tests aren’t just done in hospitals. “The doctors go to the home, with their protective equipment, take the sample and process it,” says Alfaro, who explains that there are 20 technical teams with doctors and nurses. The epidemiological surveillance system receives the results and they notify the patients.

The five lessons of Panama

  1. Get ahead of the event and don’t underestimate the risk.
  2. Think of possible scenarios and build a support team
  3. Quickly mobilize resources
  4. Share experiences with countries and work as a subregion in Central America
  5. Put the issue on the United Nations agenda and share information between different agencies

Hospital Preparation

Panama took measures to prevent the collapse of hospitals. Each hospital can do “reconversion of beds”, giving early discharges, can suspend non-urgent surgeries and rotate medical and nursing personnel. “The staff has to know the protocols and have the equipment. It is key not to have infected medical personnel, “says Alfaro.

The representative of the Organization believes that another good decision was to appoint an intensive care team coordinator. “This makes it possible to quickly update an inventory of the resources of each institution in the public and private sector and to articulate it as a single network.”

At this time, nine patients, 8% of those infected, are in critical condition, admitted to an intensive care unit and may require assisted breathing.

“They quickly made purchases and we already received 50 additional ventilation equipment. We have already seen COVID-19 modular patient hospital design only. They have made 20 containers available to have mobile offices. The entire inventory of tents was acquired, a total of 25 for respiratory triage “, explains Alfaro.

“Imagine that there is a critical patient in the private sector and their coverage is exhausted and they have to be transferred to the public sector. This means contaminating an additional room. These coordination mechanisms have allowed us to make regulations more flexible and there is a commitment from the insurers’ association to be able to share resources, optimize those resources and be more efficient in the response, ”he adds.

Panama has a public and private health system. In the public sector, Social Security has coverage of 80% of affiliated people (not necessarily with effective access). The Ministry of Health has responsibility for the other 20% of the uninsured population, but owns 80% of clinics and hospitals.

“In the day to day we see a lot of cross subsidy. Many people with insurance are treated at Ministry facilities. At this time, there are no strict verification mechanisms and we are all articulated in a single network at the functional level. The director of social security sits every day with the team working with the minister, who has command as the national authority, “explains Alfaro.

The resident coordinator of the United Nations in the country, César Núñez, provides another key to the answer: the large presence of scientists in the country. “The Gorgas Commemorative Institute reported on Tuesday that it managed to carry out the first sequencing of the SARSCoV2 virus (coronavirus) in an imported case in Panama. “This will allow, knowing the strain that circulates in Panama, to adapt the vaccines when they are available,” he explains.

Social isolation

Panama is applying various measures to isolate citizens, such as teleworking, the suspension of classes in schools and universities, and the “stay at home” campaigns.

These strategies give “a breather” to the health systems and avoid the over demand of services that could not be managed.

“The citizen response is a little slower and hence there are increasingly stricter measures. But we have seen, for example, how several supermarket chains have organized to avoid riots. That is being done well, ”they point out.

In addition, a curfew has been established throughout the national territory, from 9:00 at night to 5:00 in the morning.

Government coordination

The heads of the UN assure that coordination between the different areas of the Government has also been key.

“The president himself exercises command and is activating the devices and ministries to make decisions. It is a pleasure to see with the seriousness that the country has assumed this issue and the agility with which it makes decisions. It is comfortable to work like this. We do not have to go and convince the authorities, because they are already fully convinced, “says Alfaro.

“It gives us peace of mind, because there is installed capacity, committed human resources and economic capacity. The speed with which the Government is making decisions to close the gaps is impressive, ”he points out.

“It is a combination of political involvement and commitment that has resulted in budgets, and an implementation with a clear structure is what has allowed the country to advance,” adds Nuñez.

Posted in Panama | 7 Comments

Shopping at Pricesmart Today

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.

Strange to see so few people checking out

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!

Posted in Panama | 10 Comments

Coronavirus in Panama

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….

xx

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Coronavirus Arrives in Panama

Tocumen airport in Panama City is a very busy international hub with flights from all over the world. Many Panamanians have the means and reasons to travel, and many places in Panama are popular tourist destinations. We figured it was only a matter of time before the virus came to Panama, in spite of their best efforts to keep it out.

The first news was of a Panamanian woman who came back from Spain feeling ill. She tested positive for the virus and was put under quarantine at home.

Then, yesterday, worse news came out. The director of a high school in Panama City became ill with the virus and died. He was diabetic and died from virus associated pneumonia. Two more people are in intensive care at the moment, both teachers from the same high school.

https://www.prensa.com/impresa/panorama/panama-registra-1-fallecido-y-7-casos-por-el-coronavirus/

This is the best article I’ve found so far, but an internet search will bring up more. Rather than report the information it contains, I’ll just run it through google translate and repost the rather lengthy article at the bottom of this post.

For us, we remain home under quarantine for 3 more days, and we continue to get daily phone calls from the health department in both Panama City and David. We are fine and word is everyone in our tour group is fine, but I don’t mind the precautions. I’d feel terrible if we brought the virus into the country, spread it around, and then it killed people.

In the country though, there are a lot of changes. Concerts, fair, sports events, and anything that draws crowds have been cancelled. There is a huge international fair this month in David, and this is going to affect the livelihood of many, many vendors. But I understand why Panama is immediately taking strong measures to hopefully stop the spread of the virus.

Anyway…. the article…..

Eight confirmed cases and, of these, a deceased person, is the new balance of infections of the new coronaviruss in the country, confirmed last night at a press conference by the Minister of Health, Rosario Turner. Although she did not specify her name, the minister confirmed that the deceased was the director of the Monsignor Francisco Beckman College, Norato González.

Turner explained – without saying the patient’s name – that Gonzalez, suffering from diabetes, had been affected by bacterial pneumonia that was later associated with Covid-19. He died on March 8, the same day that the 40-year-old Panamanian reported to the country from Spain arrived as the first confirmed case.

Of the other six sick people, two are in intensive care. These are teachers from Beckman School. The rest of the patients remain in their homes, in stable condition.
In total, the authorities keep 66 people under surveillance, all linked to the eight confirmed cases. In this context, the Ministry of Health ordered to suspend, from today and until April 7, classes in public and private schools in northern and central Panama, and in San Miguelito. Today there is a meeting with the rectors of the universities.
He also ordered the suspension of fairs, horseback riding, concerts, sports activities and any other event that involves the agglomeration of people. Minister Turner explained that the Gorgas Memorial Institute has reagents to practice up to 1,500 tests on people suspected of being infected and instructions have already been issued to acquire another batch of reagents. The director of the Social Security Fund, Enrique Lau, said he has at least 150 fans to treat patients who require assisted breathing because of the virus.
In this scenario, nervous purchases were recorded yesterday in stores in the capital, which is why the authorities made a new call for calm and sanity.

The Ministry of Health (Minsa) confirmed yesterday the first death by the new coronavirus. This is Norato González, director of the Monsignor Francisco Beckman school, located in the county of Las Cumbres, in northern Panama, Last Monday, the authorities had reported that Professor González presented a clinical picture of bacterial pneumonia that was complicated, but yesterday the story changed. The Minister of Health, Rosario Turner, confirmed in a press conference that, so far, eight cases have been positive for laboratory tests performed by the new coronavirus, including the deceased person and two teachers of the educational center in question. Turner explained that they have 66 people under epidemiological observation, which includes the whole family nucleus of confirmed cases.

Given this scenario, the Minister of Health reported the suspension of classes for public and private schools in the sectors of northern Panama, central Panama and the district of San Miguelito, until next April 7. He also said that the Cabinet Council decided to suspend events that involve agglomeration of people, such as fairs, horseback riding, concerts and sports activities. He asked the population to remain calm, since 70% of people suffer from the disease mildly, 25% moderately and only 5% reach a critical situation. In that regard, the World Health Organization said last Monday that, of the more than 80 thousand cases confirmed by the new coronavirus in China, 70% have recovered and released.

Cases
Regarding the case of the 40-year-old Panamanian from Barajas Airport, Spain, the authorities reported that they monitor eight direct contacts of the Iberia flight and two people from their residence. The patient recovers at home.
The second case corresponds to a 55-year-old Panamanian, who was in France, Madrid, United States and Cuba; 42 people who had contact with him are under follow-up.
Case three is a 29-year-old Panamanian who traveled to Colorado, the United States, and Cuba, and had direct contact with a person.
The fourth report corresponds to another 45-year-old Panamanian from Spain and has had contact with four people.
Meanwhile, case number five is a 49-year-old Panamanian with no travel history, but maintained contact with 17 people. It is a case similar to that of the deceased professor, who also had no travel history outside the country.
The Minsa also explained that patient number six is ​​a 59-year-old Panamanian who traveled to Puerto Rico and New York.
And the seventh case is a 35-year-old Panamanian who traveled to the United States.
In the last two cases, all persons who had contact with travelers are investigated.

The infectologist and member of the Advisory Committee for Coronavirus del Minsa, Xavier Saéz-Llorens, described in his Twitter account as mitigated means of mitigation by the Minsa, and that all were discussed with advisers and technicians. He said that the measures will be taken in a staggered way and possibly hardened, depending on the behavior of the outbreak.

CSS measurement
Earlier, the Social Security Fund (CSS) decided to suspend until further notice elective surgeries in the main centers of the capital city, specifically in the Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital Complex, Dr. Susana Jones Cano Hospital and Irma Hospital from Lourdes Tzanetatos. This was reported by the director of the CSS, Enrique Lau Cortés, who explained that the measure was adopted to prevent the spread of Covid-19 disease.

Lau Cortés said they are prepared to face the cases of the new coronavirus, and that they have 150 artificial ventilators for patients who at one time may require them.
Javier Nieto Guevara, an infectologist and member of the Advisory Committee for Coronavirus del Minsa, said that the decision of the Social Security Fund authorities is correct and a rational way to keep health facilities clear and available for potential contingencies. He noted that measures as they are are discussed by the Committee and based on the technical opinion of all its members. For his part, the leader of the National Negotiating Medical Commission (Comenenal), Julio Osorio, described the measure as correct, especially for the rate at which the disease is spreading. In that sense, Osorio cited as an example the situation in Italy, where the number of cases amounts to more than 9 thousand and the deaths already add up to 463. The disease has spread rapidly, in two weeks. Therefore, it is better to use all resources to contain the disease and not put the insured population of the country at risk, he said.

Cruises, in the spotlight
In addition, health personnel intensified yesterday the inspections of cruise passengers who were anchored in the port of the Amador Causeway, in the Ancón district.
Health officials screened all passengers, who could not disembark until they were checked one by one. The boarding took place on the high seas, and then the passengers were taken to the marina and transported on tourist buses to continue with their tourist plans. The director of Planning of the Minsa, Israel Cedeño, explained that evaluation is always carried out on people who move in all types of boats, but when there are new “events” the search for patients with the symptomatology of the disease intensifies, and Health staff increases. He explained that these verifications have been carried out with other viruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), middle east repiratory syndrome (MERS), H1N1 and Ebola.

x

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Paris to Zurich

On our tour, the plan for the day was to go from Paris to Zurich. It looks good on paper, but we didn’t think about how many hours in a bus it takes to make that trip. We drove and drove through beautiful French the countryside of green, rolling hills, while most of us looked out or tried to get a nap or two.

We reached the Swiss border! The crossing was easy. Our guide got out and did something for a few minutes, and then we were on our way again.

Zurich! We stopped by the beautiful Lake Zurich for a rest break. I had a little French and Italian, but here they spoke only German. I can see why Europeans are multi-lingual. You’d have to be! We bought some delicious bratwursts and beer from some nice guys who taught me bitte (please), danke (thank you), hallo (hello), and auf viedersehen (goodbye) . Danke fruende (I admit to using google translate to find out how to spell these)

I like Zurich. The outskirts were normal city stuff, but downtown was charming with interesting buildings, tons of bikes everywhere, buses and electric trains for transportation, lots of people on foot, and the area by the lake with the alps in the background is stunning.

We were at a very nice Radisson hotel for the night. We’re fine with decent, basic accommodations but it was a treat to  have a really nice room for a night. We showered, washed clothes, lounged in the big bed with all the pillows, and went next door to McDonalds for a hot chocolate.

It has been decades since I’ve been to a McDonalds so I don’t know if this is common, but we had an adventure in this one. There are big screens where you place your order. Then you take your receipt, a sign with your number, and go to your table. In a short while, a smiling employee delivers your order to your table. We were surprised to be served hot milk and packets of chocolate powder but it was really really good! It is Switzerland, after all, and they do know how to make chocolate.

So, one more day down. Tomorrow – Milan – oops! No, no Milan. Yesterday we started hearing news of problems with the coronavirus, and on this day we heard that Milan is closed down and we will not be stopping there. Our guild was keeping up with the news and checking ahead frequently, and I trusted that she was doing the right thing for us. Internet on the bus was spotty at best though, so we had to wait until evening at the hotel to get any current news, and there wasn’t much news on line at this point.

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And, update from Panama, today, 3/10. We now have our first case of coronavirus, a Panamanian woman who returned from a visit to Spain, sick, and she tested positive. She is quarantined at home now. Of course the country, social media, and our neighborhood chat group are very active with the news since it broke.

We are on day 10 of our quarantine. We’re feeling rested and ready to rejoin the world this weekend, and the errands are starting to accumulate. But, I’m still really enjoying this at home vacation.

I cancelled my USA trip for next week. It seems like things get more nuts there by the day. My Seattle daughter and her husband are working from home, though daycare for the kids is still open and operating normally. She says it’s an easy drive there now that the streets are almost empty. My Sants Rosa CA daughter is working at her office, but she says it’s also weirdly quiet around town.

What is up with the frantic buying of toilet paper???

Stay calm and wash your hands

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More from Paris

For our second day in Paris we explored a bit on our own, and our primary destination was the Louvre Museum.

The Louvre is something else entirely! There is no way you can see a fraction of it in one afternoon, and I only have a few favorites here of the many, many things we saw. If you are interested in the art, an internet search will bring up lots of info and pictures. I think to really appreciate everything there, one would have to spend weeks exploring the museum. Still, I was really happy that we did get to see the little that we did.

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of only these works, not to mention the dozens and dozens more we saw, which were just a fraction of what is in the museum. I wish I could study about all of them, and then go back again!

But, we had one more thing we wanted to do that day, which was to go see Notre Dame. We grabbed a taxi to save our tired feet and went over there.

Notre Dame is closed for renovations after the fire. According to the info I found on line. renovations were already underway to repair years of weather and pollution damage. Some statues and art had been removed for the renovation, and other art was being stored in a location not touched by the fire. People did what they could to save everything else, and if I understand correctly, art affected by the fire suffered smoke damage, not destruction. So thankfully, the vast majority of Notre Dame should be restored, and much of what burned was in poor shape and needed to be replaced anyway. But, it’s going to take years and a lot of money to restore and rebuild this beautiful cathedral. Meanwhile, visitors can only see if from the outside.

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On another note, I think I mentioned that when we returned from our trip, which included Italy, we were taken aside at both the Panama City airport and the David airport. We continue to be under at home quarantine with daily calls from both Panama City and David health departments to check on us for any signs of illness.  So far, knock on wood, Panama has no known cases of the virus, and we are feeling just fine. We were pretty tired so it’s been nice to have an enforced vacation and rest period, but I think by the time we are done on the 14th we’ll be ready to join the world again. And, we’ll be able to get to the errands and things we need to do in town.

We’re lucky though! We have a stocked freezer, a fruit/veggie guy who comes by weekly, and would more often if we asked, and friends we can all on if necessary. I can see how this would be a total pain for someone who didn’t have what they needed on hand, or friends to help, or the worst, a loss of critical income if they couldn’t go to work.

One would think, being home all this time, I could get pictures sorted and posted a bit faster, huh? But… there’s music to practice, things to read, research to do (and you know about those internet rabbit holes), and relaxing and just hanging out. I honestly don’t know how I ever had time to work and do all the things I used to do in the past!

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First Day in Paris

We arrived in Paris on Thursday evening and went directly to the hotel. Friday morning, the agenda was a bus tour of the city to give us a general introduction. Our Spanish guide was on the bus but a local, Spanish speaking guide did the narration on the tour.

I have photos (quite a few taken through the bus window) but I’ll share some of my favorites here.

The afternoon was free time, since we didn’t choose to take one of the optional tours. We mainly wandered around the Arc de Triomphe and La Louvre area, and we visited some of the many tourist shops in the area. We were very lucky, as you can see, with the weather. It was chilly, but sunny and bright which made wandering around outside very pleasant.

It was such  whirlwind trip that many things blur together in my mind. Did we taxi home, or go on the metro? I know we took the metro one day and it was quite easy to navigate. Anyway, we made our way back to the hotel, and then explored the shopping center nearby and the large supermarket.

Thank goodness for photos to help me remember what we did as saw each day, and thank goodness for internet searches of pictures, which has helped me identify and research many of the buildings we saw. I have a lot more photos so little by little I’ll make my way through them.

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Meanwhile, back at home, we seem to be doing a little better today with the jet lag and fatigue, though I still am waking up before dawn. You get more done though when you’re up early, so there’s that. We are staying in per health department instructions, and we continue to get daily calls to check on us. As far as I know everyone in our group is doing ok, and there are no cases of coronavirus in the country. News from the rest of the world seems to change by the hour though, and things don’t sound good in (USA) Washington state and California. I’m pretty sure I’m not travelling as planned, especially now that my daughter’s exchange student guest has been cancelled so she’ll have more free time later.

Here in Panama it’s the height of summer and the afternoons have been beastly hot! Without the sun though, it cools off nicely. It’s been chilly when I get up at sunup, and now that it’s 6:15pm it’s getting downright pleasant out here, and I’m enjoying listening to all the birds while I work on this from my terrace.

 

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