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Panama Pandemic Update

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.

june 13 minsa map of panama covid cases

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.

control how you respondWe have received daily communications from the Ministry of Health and/or the President to keep us informed of the status of the virus and the government’s plans.

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.

Panama thought they had control of the invisible enemy…SO..

President Cortizo announced the six-stage plan to reopen the economy process which began on May 13 with a plan to open up a new Block every 14 days.

panama reopen plan

After Block 1 opened, we saw a big spike in the number of new virus cases.

Then Panama entered Block 2 of the reopening process on June 1.  We saw another spike in the number of new cases.  The original plan was to open each block 14 days apart to see if there was an impact on the number of new cases.

Unfortunately, when each Block was opened we saw a huge spike in the number of new cases mostly in Panama City , Colon and Panama Oeste (Panama Oeste is the areas just west of Panama City which includes Arraijan, Chorrera, Chame, Capira, Coronado, and San Carlos). So June 1st, those areas had to go back in to a strict quarantine. The rest of the country is still only in a curfew.  It is mandatory to wear a masks when in public.

During the entire State of Emergency, no one has been allowed to leave the province (like a state) where we live. This is done to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus from one province to another.

Yesterday the president announced that we would not open Block 3 until we reduce the number of new cases each day.  At this point, we don’t know when we will be able to open Block 3 or when international travel will resume.  He also said that he will make a announcement in July 1st with more details about when the airport might open.  Of course, as soon as I know more I will keep you informed.

The good news, out of the 20,686 cases of Covid-19 in Panama, 13,766 have recovered!   There have been 420 deaths.

june 14 covid cases in panama

ECONOMY – THE GOOD NEWS

Panama Canal

Panama Canal

Throughout the pandemic, the Panama Canal has operated and continued to produce income for Panama. Grocery stores and pharmacies have been open. We have not seen any disruption in the supply chain.  Some restaurants are open for take out or home delivery.  One of the largest copper mines in the world is in operation in Panama. Panama is home to the second largest free trade zone in the world and most of it has been operational during the pandemic.  Panama has continued to export bananas, coconuts, meats and other crops.

Panama has very diversified sources of income so they have not been as affected as much as other Latin American countries who rely almost exclusively on oil and tourism for income.

The other big plus is that Panama grows most of what we need without importing.  We have a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, rice, chickens, and fish from two Oceans.

Given that 6 percent of global trade passes through the Canal, financial analysts warn that Panama could feel the impact as the virus continues to affect trade.

However, despite the impact that Covid-19 has had on Panama’s economy, April 12 projections by the World Bank show that Panama stands to see only a 2 percent GDP contraction this year. Additionally, Moody’s projects that Panama’s public debt will expand to 53 percent of the country’s GDP with the deficit growing 2.2 percent. Panama hates debt but has borrowed money from the IMF to combat the virus.  Once the pandemic has subsided, the Panamanian government will create an aggressive plan to replay all debt as fast as possible.

REFLECTION

During this pandemic, I am so glad that I live in Boquete Panama. Some people have not been able to tolerate the strict quarantine so they left Panama on humanitarian flights arranged by the Embassy. I’ve actually enjoyed the time off.

I feel blessed to live in Boquete Panama where it is Spring like weather every day, I have spectacular scenery and the most fertile soil so I can grow much of the food that I eat.

As Panama gradually reopens we will all need to learn new ways of interacting with people and new ways to do business. Wearing masks and social distancing will unfortunately be with us for awhile.

Panama Relocation GuideEven though our Panama Relocation Tours have been put on hold we still have a steady flow of people who contact us because they want to experience a better and less expensive way to live in Panama.

To help you learn all the things you need to know to relocate to Panama as soon as possible, we created the Online Panama Relocation Guide.   The Online Guide has all the same information you’d get on a Panama Relocation Tour including our contacts for reliable immigration lawyers, honest property managers, how to save 40% on health insurance, and much more.  You’ll even get a list of people who can pick you up with you arrive in Panama. And we made arrangements with people in each area to do a private tour to show you around.  We’ll have more details about the private tours next week.

The pandemic has created havoc on the entire world. But here in Panama, it has created a sense of “we’re all in this together” where everyone is helping their neighbors. That’s the way life should be!

With the violence going on in the United States, many are looking for a more peaceful place to live… Panama is the answer!

When Panama’s borders open, come see how you can live BETTER for LESS in Panama.. with less stress too!

Live a stress-free life in Panama.

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Todd Schrauf says

    Thanks for the update Jackie. I was hoping that immigration could start processing my residency paperwork. Sorry to hear that the reopening has been delayed but glad to know that they are doing what they need to save lives. I note that about 10 days after each reopening there is another spike upwards in new cases, which corresponds with the 2 week quarantine period that countries use. Fortunately, you are seeing a relatively low fatality ratio (2%) in Panama. Here in Arizona about 10 days after we stopped our lock down, cases began to rise. We have also have a slightly higher fatality ratio (3.3%) but a much lower percentage of recoveries (only about 18% to date) and our ICUs are now reaching capacity. Not surprising as I see people in the grocery store without masks and people going to bars and not practicing social distancing (not us of course). Starting to get scary here.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hi Todd

      Glad you liked the update. We have a lot of restrictions in Panama but we’re all in this together to help save lives. It’s sad to see how little people take the pandemic serious in North America

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Todd. It’s crazy that people go to grocery stores and bars without wearing a mask or social distancing. Wearing a mask is mandatory in Panama and so is social distancing!

  2. lyle wall says

    Good job.

    • Jackie Lange says

      Thanks Lyle. Hope all is well with you.

  3. Ana Daffin says

    Thank you for this information. I appreciate. I am hoping to get to Panama in 2021. First I need to get s passport. Take care and safe. Viva Panama.😘

  4. Tommy Cebulla says

    Jackie:

    GREAT piece of writing. Always good to hear you are OK and doing well.

    Tommy Cebulla

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hey Tommy. Great to hear from you. I’m doing great in Panama. You need to come visit sometime but we warned that you might not want to leave once you see how amazing Panama is!!!

  5. Gary Posner says

    Hi Jackie, I appreciate all your information. I have some to relay on your updates. My family and I are supposed to come to Panama to work at The International School of Panama. But it seems we may not be able to come until September or October. I watched the video about the homesteaders in Boquete that you helped. You are a good person. We hope to meet you when we come.
    Thank you
    Gary

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Gary. Most schools are closed. The government only allows online classes.

  6. Mary says

    The Pandemic has allowed me to retire early and we were hoping that could speed up our moving time. But since we need to go on the tour first I am guessing that won’t happen. How are you contacting the people who have reservations for the tour in September and what are the options.

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Mary

      Congratulations on retiring early!!! Because we can’t do Panama Relocation Tours YET, we now offer an Online Panama Relocation Guide to teach you all the same information but ONLINE! You will even get our reliable contacts for immigration lawyers, honest property managers, and more. See details at https://panamarelocationtours.com/guide

  7. Marilyn Flinn says

    Wow – fantastic update, Jackie. Thank you very much! My husband and I are on the Saturday calls every week (and we are waitlisted for a December tour with you). We have purchased new tickets for Nov 21-Dec 6, after cancelling our planned May trip, and your information has just been STELLAR! We appreciate the emails, the calls, and the obvious competence that you use to share information. Thanks for all that you do to keep up informed on all things Panama. We can’t wait to be there, too!

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hey Marilyn We’re so glad you like the update and the other information we have been providing. The pandemic has certainly put a damper on plans to move to Panama for so many people. We’re doing our best to keep everyone informed about what’s going on in Panama. Hopefully the borders will open up soon so you can come to Panama!

  8. Merre J Coyman says

    Hi Jackie and thank you for that very detailed update. I am scheduled for a relocation tour on August 21, 2020. If I do the math it seems very unlikely that the country will be open and that you will be giving regular tours by then. Do you agree with that? If so, do you think it would be wise for me to cancel my flight, purchase the guide and prepare to visit with the local guides? I was planning to move there in November 2020. I do not want to wait beyond that if at all possible. Thank you for your time and input.

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Merre So sorry that the pandemic has created such a mess. We certainly hope we can do tours by September but just don’t know yet if it will be possible. Colombia is not allowing international travel until September. If you purchase the Online Guide, we have information about who can pick you up at the airport and who cam be your private tour guide in each area.

  9. Claude says

    Hi Jackie. I really admire the ‘no central bank, no money printing’ reference above; what responsibility!!!!!!!! I really enjoy your videos. On the flip side, I will be high tailing it out of USA ASAP! I live in Woodland Hills, Ca., a suburb of LosAngeles. I’m seeing my childhood paradise, Hollywood, being dismantled and destroyed:(; but this is just a microcosm of the entire country:( From this article, it seems Panamanians are much more cohesive, level headed, and actually have respect for one another and their laws; as opposed to an attitude of individual entitlement in USA! My Father brought us here from France, to the paradise of the USA in 1957; not so anymore! As soon as Covid is in the rear view mirror, I’ll be acting on all I’ve learned from you from your site. A tour is definitely on the horizon. Thanks-Claude
    PS. I just had to say something and comment, I couldn’t stand being quiet anymore:(

    • Jackie Lange says

      HI Claude. The world has certainly changed. But at least in Panama, even with the strict quarantines, there is still respect for each other and the law.

  10. Gleb says

    Super, thank you for detailed update, Jackie.
    I also joined your online portal to suport your efforts.

    Gleb

  11. Kris Hansen says

    Good afternoon Jackie

    My wife and I are hoping to travel to Panama September 12th through September 19th.
    I hope the COVID-19 pandemic will allow us to visit, I will continue to follow your updates as well as the US Embassy.

    Thanks for your information

    Kris and Luz Hansen

    • Jackie Lange says

      President Cortizo is making a big announcement July 1st with a plan to reopen the airport and the economy. As I get more info, I will certainly share it with everyone.

  12. Agatha Ikking says

    The information i get the eager i am becoming to immigrate to Panama.

    • Jackie Lange says

      We are so ready for this pandemic to settle down so Panama’s borders can open up. We’re ready to show off this beautiful country again soon!

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