Panama Pandemic Progress

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Since some of you have asked, we are doing fine throughout this pandemic.  We are very grateful for what we have and to be riding this out in beautiful Boquete.  I think our biggest challenges are being bored and unable to plan anything.  All of the many cruises I was to be on this year have so far been cancelled.  A big kick in the budget!  I’m used to traveling almost half the year, and so far I haven’t been anywhere.  Even on c4+ acres you can only plant so many hibiscus starters!  (This is the rainy season, so all you have to do is stick a branch in the ground and wait a few months and … voila!  Another beautiful bush!)  But thankfully, even during the most severe lock down times, we’ve been able to be out and about on our property.

Many things (vegetables, cheese, fruits, fish, breads) Nikki has always purchased directly from the farmers or producers, usually at the Tuesday Market.  Now we literally buy direct: farm to table!  Nikki orders on the phone, almost like drug dealers, we meet them at a predesignated spot, of course wearing masks!!, they give us a package with our order and Nikki hands them a Baggie with the exact money.

We’ve had to postpone previously scheduled annual checkups in the States.  Usually I’ll tie these in with cruise assignments.  But if you can’t fly anywhere, you can’t go anywhere.  So we keep hoping.

Panama’s response to the pandemic has been as good as, or better!!, than most countries big or small.  It’s been tough because Panama has always been one of the most important “crossroads of the world.”  Fortunately the Canal has continued to operate although with severe health restrictions.  Tocumen Airport, the “Hub of the Americas,” remains nothing but a parking lot for Copa airplanes.  With the airport closed, of course no tourists, which means lots of folks who earn a living off tourism, present company included, are out of work with no income.

Many people, unhappy and perhaps scared by the situations in their own countries, are eager to check out Panama as either an immediate escape or a “Plan B” if things in their home country get worse.  So literally folks from all over the world read this, and other blogs about expat living.  Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tours are in my opinion the best way to check out possibly moving to Panama.  And no, I don’t work for Jackie or have any financial interest in her tours.  She’s a friend.  I’ve been on the tours and I recommend them.  Period.  But without air access she’s had to cancel tours which already were sold out through most of next year.  But she does get cancellations, so don’t totally despair.

Jackiepublished this update on the situation in Panama as of yesterday, June 14th.  It is well done and worth reading if you are interested in escaping to Paradise.  And of course, my book, THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE also makes good, informative reading!

Panama Pandemic Update by Jackie Lange, Panama Relocation Tours

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 for those in the Covid-hotels.

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.

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. But 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 the areas just west of Panama City (Coronado). 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.

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.

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.

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.

Even 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.

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.