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Tocumen International Airport in Panama City is the “Hub of The Americas” yet since Panama closed its airspace March 22, the usually hectic Tocumen Airport has become a giant parking lot for 102 Copa planes, all out of service due to the pandemic.  On a typical day more than 350 air operations are carried out between takeoffs and landings, which generates a daily flow of 42 thousand people through Tocumen International.  KLM, Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa, Air China, Turkish Airlines, Avianca, Mexicana, British Airways, Air Canada, United, Delta and American in addition to Copa, all use Panama City as a major “Hub of The Americas.”

Many people in the North America are unfamiliar with Copa which offers direct flights to Panama from major US cities.  Copa is still flying the way it used to be.  Remember, “Friendly Skies”?  Copa still has skies, flight attendants, and service people are are still friendly.  Even in coach on Copa you have leg room, get free snacks and drinks, including alcohol, and not-bad airline meals.  Not kidding!  If you’re coming to Panama you don’t have to fly the US “big three” “cattle car” airlines!  Copa doesn’t attempt the old “First Class” service, but it’s business class or “Executive Class” is fantastic.

Copa aims to resume service, starting on a limited basis, as soon as Panama reopens its air space, hopefully by June 1st.  Due to COVID -19, Copa Airlines calculates a fall of 70% of its income for this year: about $2 billion.

Panama has taken the fight against COVID-19 VERY seriously.  Restrictions differ in various parts of the country.  For instance in Panama City you can be fined $1,000 for not wearing a face mask when in public.  Country-wide there is a ban on alcohol presumably to prevent domestic violence during the lock-down.  You can not have more than five people together.  The super-rich, “I’m above the law” family that went ahead with their grand wedding celebration ignoring the restrictions were fined $100,000.  If you are out and about at other than your prescribed 2 hours to go to the grocery store/pharmacy, your car is impounded and your lose your drivers license for 3 months.  Weekends you must stay at home.  No going out for any reason.  No walks, jogs, bike rides, walking your dog … nada!  People in Panama City have been told that if they have a pet they much make provision in their residence for the pet to take care of its “needs.”

So if you are a US-North American expat living in Panama, and you see incredibly stupid Southern US states allowing people to flock to the beach, drive their pickups cruising around waving Confederate flags, attending political rallies, encouraging people to gather together for demonstrations and religious events (and we’re not talking about “snake-handling” in the woods” here), wander around Walmart . . . you begin to think the folks “back home” either don’t get-it or are just nuts.  This is a pandemic: people are dying.

The staying at home policy certainly isn’t observed by the President, who goes off to his golf resort in New Jersey to get together with his family to celebrate Passover.  And then his kids, Ivanka and Jerod, who in addition to being the President’s family are high-paid, high-level White House employees, decide that they will ignore the Washington DC curfew and  drive up to New Jersey to join the rest of the family (“rather than fly commercial” since all those flights are grounded, or hop a ride on Air Force One).  Important as Passover may be, gross selfishness seems to ignore the whole spirit of the holiday.

Is Panama’s restrictive response a pain?  Yes, mostly.  Although I happen to enjoy just staying at home with my wife and dogs.  I do miss the wine but as long as the supply of Haagen Dazs Macadamia Nut Brittle ice cream doesn’t dry up, I’m fine.  I may gain back all the weight I lost last summer after my knee operation, but heck … if the pandemic reminds us of anything it should be this: it’s good to be alive!