Personally, I like solitude. I don’t mind it. I am used to it. But for the four million residents of Panamá, the war-like, draconian measures the country is currently under may not be as comfortable.
Panamá is a happy country under normal circumstances. But the last two weeks have brought life here in the metropole to a literal stand-still. For 10 days now, men and women are not permitted to get groceries together. One of the heavy-handed decrees coming down from el Presidente is that women may shop on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and men may get food on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
Not so last Saturday, however. During Easter weekend, no one was allowed on the streets anywhere in the country. Some several hundred who defied the curfew were fined $100. Anyone found with booze was penalized $200. Yes, the sale of alcohol is forbidden in the country. Ugh! I crave a cold one! Those who could not pay the fine are forced to clean the streets. Any driver caught on the roads during shut-down will see their license taken for three months.
The government is closed. All public government offices anyway. The Metro and bus services are restricted, and masks are mandatory when boarding a train or a bus. Churches are closed. Most businesses are shut. The stores that remain open are supermarkets and pet stores.
I went to the supermarket last week at mid-morning. Regular-priced bread loaves were sold out. Premium bread was available en masse. Am I going to pay three bucks for a loaf of bread? Nah, I pass. The messages propagated by the mainstream media is that of constant fear while the already fragile economy has been shut down. Another government decree forbids the firing of people but I don’t know if they’re getting financial assistance. I certainly don’t.
Food still plentiful
The food delivery business seems to be alive and well. However, the fresh veggie and fruit truck that came by every morning for the last two years, announcing its produce over a bullhorn, has stopped coming, too. Perhaps it will be back tomorrow?
Another curious side-effect: Empty billboards on the streets.
It makes perfect sense because hardly anyone is out there.
Everybody, bar essential workers, is ordered under strict quarantine.
About five minutes from here, there is a major private hospital. It’s open.
Their emergency entry is now guarded by a bio-hazard tent.
But the emergency room is empty. Not one patient. No one there.
I think that’s good news. Personally, as it seems to be the case worldwide, the infection numbers and the danger of COVID-19 seem to be higher in the news than playing out on the streets.
The media is now reporting a concern about potential food shortages, but the government assures the population that rice, bread, beef, and chicken is guaranteed through September, although meeting the demand will be difficult, according to a spokesperson.
The third batch of prisoners is being released from custody, according to the government, to mitigate the risk of infection among inmates.
The releases are limited to people 60 years or older, with underlying conditions and good behavior. It is not clear, however, if one or all these criteria apply. We can see similar policies enacted in certain states in the US.
The United Nations chose Panama as its hub for Humanitarian relief for Central and South America, which makes sense. For one, there is a large presence of UN offices in or near the City of Knowledge here in Panamá City, and Tocumen, Panamá’s airport, is the most modern south of the US border.
No more are there any Friday and Saturday balcony dances and signing celebrations. The country is depressed. It is eerily quiet in Panamá. Am I concerned? Not really. Life goes on. It’s different now. But the spirit of Panamá and the rest of the world will not be broken.
If you have any questions about life in Panamá during this crisis, drop me a note and I will be quick to respond. Stay safe!
by: LP Wirth