UPDATE June 17th. Panama announced that international flights will resume July 23rd. But honestly, they have announced dates before and they have been changed. I would not count on international flights starting on July 23rd AND we still don’t know what the rules will be when people arrive. We assume they will need to have a 14-day quarantine.
June 14, 2020
Panama’s borders are still closed. Tocumen International Airport was scheduled to open June 22 but yesterday President Cortizo announced that the airport cannot open with so many new cases of the virus every day. In his Twitter feed he announced that he would like to see the number of new cases go down to not more than 100 a day before the airport opens.
Last week, even the labor unions, including pilots, did a PEACEFUL march through Panama City protesting the opening of the economy too soon. As much as everyone would like to get back to work, it is too soon in Panama to start international flights or to open non-essential businesses. You’ll see why below.
In June, the number of new cases has been between 400 to as many as 800 each day. Teams of people are going door-to-door to do testing because some people have the Covid virus and don’t even know it so they are spreading the virus.
Obviously, with this many new cases ever day it may be awhile before the airport can open for international travelers. Even when the airport does open, initially Panama will likely require a 14-day home/hotel quarantine when you arrive.
The majority of the cases have been in Panama City where there is a very high density of people. I live in Chiriqui Province on the far western side of Panama in the town of Boquete. Boquete has only had 14 cases of the Covid virus and no deaths. The map below shows how many virus cases there are in each province.
THE PROGRESSION OF THE VIRUS IN PANAMA
This is how the virus progressed in Panama and the actions Panama has taken to try to prevent the spread of the virus or overwhelming the hospitals. Panama is an international hub for air and marine travel so it is exposed to a high volume of people coming in from all over the world.
Panama reported it’s first confirmed case of Covid-19 on March 9th, a 40- year old school teacher who have traveled to Italy. By March 10th, Panama had 8 confirmed cases and its first death.
President Cortizo took swift action on March 12 when he announced that Panama was in a State of Emergency and quickly mobilize $50 million dollars to purchase test kits, masks and increase hospital bed capacity to get ready for a big increase in Covid-19 cases.
On March 19th Panama suspended international travel in to or out of the country. Originally this was to be for only 30-days but that date has been moved several times.
To prevent the spread of the virus, initially Panama enacted a curfew but it did nothing to slow down the number of new cases. So on March 25th, a total quarantine was ordered for everyone in Panama. You could only leave your house three times a week for two hours to buy groceries or get medicine. Beaches were even closed. Women could leave home on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Men could leave their house on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Children had to stay home. Only those people working at grocery stores or pharmacies could go to work.
Most non-essential businesses where ordered to close. Hundreds of thousands of people had their labor contract suspended. Of course, this had a huge impact on Panama’s economy. Because many people could not work, they had no income. On March 27th President Cortizo announced a Solidario program to give $80 a week to each adult who had their labor contract cancelled or suspended. Panama has no unemployment benefits so the Solidario program was a first. Just a reminder that Panama does not have a central bank so they can’t just print more money.
To prevent overloading hospitals, Panama had a new hospital built in less than 30 days. And Panama worked with some of the hotels to convert them in to Covid-hotels where people who tested positive but had mild symptoms could stay instead of going home to their family where they would spread the virus to all family members. The Covid-hotels are staffed with nurses to monitor their situation closely and meals are provided.
In addition, Cortizo signed a measure passed by Panama’s legislature to suspend payments on public services—including electricity, internet, and phone bills. Originally this was for four months which has since been extended to December 31st. And, the president reached an agreement with the Panama Banking Association to institute a moratorium on a number of payments, including mortgages, a variety of loans, and credit cards, until December 31, 2020. Those who had their labor contract suspended do not have to pay rent and they cannot be evicted for not paying rent.
Even though my gardeners and house keeper could not come to work because of the quarantine, I continued to pay them. Most people who could afford to have continued to pay their staff even if it is less than full pay.
Because of the strict quarantine, Panama was able to get the number of new cases to below 200 a day, sometimes only 100 new cases. And the R factor (transmission rate) was below 1.