Travel Safely Amidst a Pandemic?
Is it safe to travel to Panama right now? This is the question that many are asking as they struggle to make plans for the coming year. Traveling amidst a pandemic can be a nerve-racking experience, especially if you listen to the never-ending rumors circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp groups about potential lockdowns. However, if you look at the country’s numbers, protocols, and personal experiences of those traveling, you may find that Panama is one of the safest places just now.
Open for Business
Panama opened up its economy in stages on August 15, 2020. Back then, the average number of tests per day was 2,500, and the average number of daily new cases was around 650. Now, the average number of tests is around 10,000 a day and our daily new cases are hovering around 1,400. So increasing testing by four times resulted in just a 45% increase in diagnosed cases. The positivity rate decreased from 35% to 11%.
Panama has done an outstanding job of making tests readily available for rapid results and with diligent contact tracing. Since the opening, the death rate, positive test rate, and hospital bed occupancy rate have all stayed low enough for the country to keep from talking about another lockdown.
For now, if numbers get out of control in a certain region, the government will enact a temporary two-week curfew and basic restrictions to prevent further spread in just that area.
As for day-to-day life in Panama, things are getting back to normal. The tourist centers of the country are seeing travelers and new expats coming in. Businesses are reopening, although many small businesses did not survive the 6-month lockdown and have closed permanently.
It remains to be seen if some major hotels and restaurants in the country will decide to reopen and when. Many have already resumed operations and are cooperating with MINSA (Panama’s ministry of health) regulations, such as capacity limits, social distancing, temperature taking, and hand sanitizing when entering an establishment. Everyone is observing the country-wide 11 pm-5 am curfew. Other than these minor inconveniences to keep everyone as safe as possible, things appear to get back to normal here in Panama.
Airport U.S. versus Airport Panama
I recently traveled to the U.S. to visit family, and what a vast difference there was traveling in U.S. airports and airlines versus the Panama airport and airline.
I flew Copa Airlines in and out of Tocumen Airport. The airport did not have the same amount of traffic as it did this time last year, and most restaurants and shops are closed inside. But everything went smoothly with check-in and immigration at the airport.
Copa Airlines handed out a safety kit on their flight with masks, cleaning wipes, gloves, and bottled water for each passenger. They also used machines to verify identities with passport pictures and took temperatures before allowing us to board the flight to Panama. Tocumen airport has installed infrared cameras at the airport to observe the temperatures of each traveler in the airport.
Overall, I felt very safe traveling in and out of Panama, much more than I did while traveling in the States. Masks are mandatory in all public spaces in Panama, and the Panamanians seem to comply with the mandate. Panama even recently received the “Safe Travels” stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council for complying with biosecurity protocols against COVID-19.
I’m glad to be riding out this pandemic in a country that is taking the proper steps to keep its people safe. If you have any more questions about the coronavirus situation in Panama or anything else, reach out to me here on TCI.
by: Megan Thompson