A typical Thursday afternoon, just after 4 p.m. in Panama City, means deadlocked traffic, packed bars and restaurants, and an onslaught of shoppers crowding the aisles of every supermarket in the city. Even Sunday afternoons are busy as people return from outings and stock up their food pantries before the workweek.
Thursday afternoon, Mar 26th, 2020 was different. In the two years I have been to Panamá, even 2 a.m. traffic was busier than it was on this afternoon during rush hour time.
Panama City, in response to the Covid-19 virus, had become a virtual ghost town. The occasional car zooming by on a normally deadlocked highway.
A passer-by, and then another one, both wearing designer face masks.
Before I left the house, I checked the Super 99 website to make sure it’s business as usual. It seemed that way. But when I approached the nearly empty parking lot of the store, I saw the main entrance and exit doors, even the big windows, boarded up with huge sheets of plywood.
The entire storefront was fortified. A small side entry was open. What a relief, because I had no food. None. Besides. I craved a cold beer.
As I approached the entry, two vigilant police officers with face masks demanded ID, either my passport or cedula. I had my cedula on me and the cop seems satisfied while the other one stood back at the ready…
Uncomfortable to a degree. Then, a thermometer scanned my face four inches away. A nod and I was heading through the door, where two armed security guards, also face-masked, patrolled the entry.
The store was empty. Hardly a soul. The aisles deserted. The occasional shopper — there must not have been more than twenty in the large supermarket. The shelves were full. Except, there was no fresh baked bread, rolls, baguettes. But there were alternatives.
Well stocked, but the beer…
Toilet paper, Chlorox, eggs, water, meat, fish, veggies and fruit, all were in plentiful supply. As I filled my cart, I remembered: beer. Oh yes, a cold one.
But to my surprise, no booze was allowed to be sold. A government decree. I understand the reasoning, but I sure don’t appreciate the restriction on my own freedom.
But people get silly when they drink, and its certainly not party time. Not here, not anywhere else, I suppose. No matter what I personally think about the virus scare, we always should use common sense and practice good hygiene at all times.
The Panamanian government response early on was swift, decisive, and invasive, rightly or wrongly so. They are on top of things, and this instills confidence. The health department MINSA publishes daily stats on the virus in this country. Panamá is also building a new hospital that adds 100 beds for people who may need special respiratory care.
A New Normal in Panama?
The population is calm and disciplined. Streets are deserted, offices empty, restaurants closed. Hardrock Café has shut down its massive operation. I haven’t been to any mall, and I have no desire to mingle either. Besides, I would be surprised if all but a few stores were open. Many restaurants continue to deliver food, pharmacies meds, and groceries via Appetito 24 and other delivery services.
At 7 p.m. every Friday, a new dynamic develops. People all over town open their windows, step out on their balconies and terraces and loudly cheer, sing, dance, wave candles, cell phones and lights for thirty minutes.
It is a “thank you” to the workers in government, the emergency responders, health professionals, transport workers and the many tireless people in food production and supermarkets that keep the country running.
My special thanks go also to the engineers at the internet service providers who keep the country connected in such times where it seems the world is ending. But the sun keeps shining here in Panama City!
If you would like to know more about life in Panama, or if you have a specific question on how Panama is handling COVID-19, please leave me a comment, and I will respond quickly.
By: LP Wirth