Coronavirus in Panama: Expat Diary of What Life is Like in Panama Right Now

Jessica Ramesch, IL Panama Editor

As I write this—halfway around the world from most who will read it—it occurs to me that we are all in the same boat. No matter where you are, there are worries…compassion for many who have lost jobs or worse, loved ones…and hope that we can slow the spread of the specific strain commonly referred to as the Coronavirus (a general term for a family of viruses).

Is Panama Prepared for the Coronavirus?

In a communiqué published March 19, the United Nations singled Panama out as a leader in the region. The article praises Panama for responding quickly, designating enough funds to combat the problem, and sequencing the genome to speed up diagnostics (Panama was the first country in Central America to do so).

I’m sure no country has been perfect in its handling of this issue. We are all human, after all, as are our leaders. But the local consensus is that the government here is listening to our doctors and scientists and being proactive. I was impressed with the immediate response and then the well-paced rollout of subsequent measures.

What is Daily Life Like at the Moment in Panama?

Right after our first case was diagnosed in Panama City, the government announced that schools in the city (and the greater Panama Province) would close for four weeks. Businesses were encouraged to have employees work from home, and many started immediately.

From then on government officials let us know what changes might come so we could prepare. So it wasn’t a surprise when we were told that schools throughout the country would be closing and moving classes online. Next it was bars and restaurants (they are still allowed to do takeout and delivery). Supermarkets, pharmacies and the like remain open of course, but eventually malls and non-essential shops were told to close.

It wasn’t long before we heard that curfews were imminent. First we were asked to stay indoors from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., then 5 5 a.m. At present we are all being asked to stay home unless we have an urgent need (food, medicine, etc.)

We all have two-hour windows during which we must run these essential errands. And thankfully we have a lot of delivery people that continue to help out those who cannot or do not wish to leave home. They are deeply appreciated at a time like this, along with supermarket employees, medical professionals, police officers, and everyone else who is working hard when all hands are needed on deck

How are you Passing the Time?

I work from home, so this hasn’t been a massive change for me. I’m feeling safe and protected, doing my best to follow instructions and keep my spirits up. I have never been more thankful for the warm climate and lush green landscapes. I can simply stand at my gate and feel the strong March breeze, get some sun, and watch emerald green hummingbirds dart around the cashew fruit tree in front of my house.

How are You Preparing for the Future?

When will schools reopen? When will flights resume? When will I be able to buy wine again? (A common response to emergency situations here is to bar the sale of alcoholic beverages.) I don’t know exactly how long our movement will be restricted as we endeavor to “flatten the curve,” as they say.

But that’s ok. There are a few important things I do know: There are excellent medical professionals and scientists leading the charge here. Healthcare is free or affordable for anyone who does fall ill. And lots of people are doing all they can to be kind and helpful.

How is your Community Working Together?

Gyms offering free online classes. People in the movie industry putting their films on Youtube. My local insurance company announcing it will cover “epidemic” expenses even though the fine print in my policy says otherwise. Independent legislators offering to donate a portion of their salaries. (Those last two really surprised me!)

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