Panama has been hit with the COVID-19 virus, but the government and other senior leaders are working in unison to put steps in place which should mitigate the spread of this deadly outbreak. Generally speaking, all Panamanians are taking the virus seriously and are responding positively to the new regulations.
While it is difficult to stay on top of the numbers, the latest published statistics list 137 confirmed cases and one death in Panama. This has been achieved in ten days, since Panama’s first case was announced on March 10. That initial case was a 40-year-old woman who entered the country from Spain. The single death was a 64-year-old male with underlying health conditions.
Government Quick to Respond
The government was quick to respond after the initial case, closing all the schools immediately. Restaurants were then closed for dining in but takeout and delivery food is readily available. Panama has never been so clean! Buildings are being maintained vigorously with frequent washing and disaffecting.
Let’s face it, Panama is a bubble and self-sufficient. If we need to live off the land, we can. Our fishing boats still go out at night and bring in daily catches. Vegetables are grown here and are plentiful. You may see a few imported things—like a favorite of mine, Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies—missing, but there is plenty of food for purchase.
Panama is a young country with 29% of the population 15 years-of-age or younger and only 6.6% older than 65 years. So, our vulnerable population, at least by age, is not as high as many other countries. It looks as though, financial ramifications will need to be managed more than health care, but even the government is in the process of addressing that challenge. The government has a $1.5 billion savings account, which will be tapped so Panamanians can continue to buy food and medicine.
What It’s Like Here Now
Let me just take a minute to talk about what’s it’s currently like living here. We have a curfew in place which requires everyone to be off the streets between 9:00 PM and 5:00 AM. There are check points between the provinces and you are required to not only show identification, but also provide the reason you are out at all. There are, of course, exceptions for essential personnel such as direct healthcare providers, pharmacist and individuals working in grocery stores. While grocery stores remain open, some alcohol sales have been closed.
By the end of today, Friday March 20, 2020, the country will essentially be shut down at midnight and thousands of workers will be laid off. This may sound like a bad thing, but in reality, the citizens are being cared for and strong steps are being taken to arrest the spread of COVID-19.
In addition, the government will suspend all commercial flights to and from Panama beginning Sunday March 22 at 11:59 pm. Consequently, people here are scrambling to either leave, hunker down or get home to Panama. With Tocumen International Airport closed, hundreds of additional workers will be laid off. Construction sites are being shut down, idling hundreds more.
Superior Healthcare and Supplies
We have superior healthcare in Panama, and we are not feeling the shortages like we hear are going on in the United States. We have plenty of hand sanitizer, face masks and surgical gowns. There are adequate test kits, but they are only administered to individuals who show signs of the virus. Everyone who needs a test, can and will receive one.
How About Some Cryptocurrency?
Since there will be hundreds of employees without jobs in Panama, the government is developing cryptocurrency to digitally get cash to stranded workers’ hands. Most Panamanians have transport cards which they use to pay for the subway or public buses. The government can digitally load the transport cards and then that card can be used to buy groceries, gasoline and medicine. There is also some talk that in addition to the transport card, an app is being developed to utilize mobile phones to transfer cash and make payments. The $1.5 billion savings account will be used to fund the cards.
Fortunately, Panama has a solid banking system and is currently well-funded. There is no central bank in Panama which allows for flexibility in providing help to it’s citizens. As a dollar-based economy, Panama will be closely aligned with the United States, but still be able to grant mortgages, suspend some payments and help citizens maintain adequately while not working and fighting the virus. Panamanians will come through this pandemic as well as anyone and better than most.
A Public Webinar for Information
We have no idea how all of this is eventually going to play out, but I can report with confidence, that the Panamanian economy is going to be just fine. If we do nothing, our economy will continue to grow by virtue of the revenues being driven by the Panama Canal and the copper mine.
These are strange times with the children out of school and the streets eerily quiet. People are not allowed in and out of buildings unless they have a very good reason and happy hours are being conducted over FaceTime and Skype! Business leaders are working seamlessly with the government to institute safe policies. Jose Manuel Bern, one of Panama’s leading real estate developers, will conduct a public webinar next week updating everyone on the current situation with the COVID-19 virus and it’s ramifications. I’ll make sure to provide a link so everyone can attend—virtually. Here’s to getting this crisis under control and everyone back to normal. Stay safe!