Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Here in Panama, it is not widely celebrated except with expats. But this year it mostly will only be celebrated with greetings online through WhatsApp & Facebook.
The Corona Virus has come to Panama. It was inevitable since Panama is the hub of travel between North & South America countries along with almost every other country including China. With the Panama Canal & Tocumen International Airport, it was only a matter of time. But Panama authorities acted quickly. The government of Panama has implemented enhanced screening and quarantine measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As of March 15th, there are 55 confirmed cases in all of Panama. All schools, public & private, Preschool-Universities, have been closed until at least April 7th. All cruise ship passengers have been banned from disembarking in Panama. If passengers must disembark, they will be subject to a 14-day quarantine. Effective 11:59 pm March 16, only Panamanian citizens and residents can enter the country and all travelers must submit to a 14-day mandatory home quarantine. All public entertainment areas and stores in the entire country must close, which includes, restaurants, bars, clubs, casinos, and children’s parks, as well as beaches. Food delivery services, grocery stores, and pharmacies will continue to operate with social distancing and capacity limits. Most grocery stores have limited the number of persons entering by 50 or less, so people line up outside to enter & social-distancing practices are followed. Some areas have banned the sale of alcohol (not sure why). There doesn’t seem to be any hoarding of certain items such as toilet paper like that in the U.S., but I know of one grocery chain (Riba Smith) which has enacted a policy limiting the amount of items that can be purchased. All events nationwide (i.e., fairs, events, church services, etc.) that would congregate more than 50 people have been suspended. Many companies & businesses have their employees working online at home now, and encouraging customers to do business with them online as well. The Health Department has asked people to stay home as much as possible & wash their hands often (at least 20 seconds each time they wash); if they are coughing or sick with a cold or flu, wear a mask. Many surgeries and other medical appointments & procedures have been placed on hold to allow room to handle any possible cases of the virus. MINSA (Ministry of Health) has been given authority to work with the police at traffic stops to advise drivers & passengers as well as visit homes if necessary. There have been reports of private citizens blocking off the entrance to their town last weekend when there was an influx of people trying to leave Panama City, where most of the Corona Virus cases have occurred.
So in Pedasí, Mikkel and I are adhering to the “stay-home, stay calm” policy recommended by Panama officials & our mayor. As of today, there have been no reported confirmed cases in Pedasí or even in the Azuero Peninsula. Daily we receive messages from our mayor and the U.S. Embassy updating us on what is happening locally and throughout the country. We ventured out today on a walk to the bakery and a local grocery store to buy a few items. Pedasí was like a ghost town with only a handful of people outside their homes or in the stores. No problem with social-distancing here; people just greet verbally or friends might give an elbow bump. It has been unusually quiet in our neighborhood. Most of the restaurants are now offering only take-out and/or delivery. We haven’t had so many delivery services in the past, so this is a plus for Pedasí residents. The restaurants and other businesses have posted that they are diligently following the guidelines of disinfecting their premises including food preparation and washing hands frequently, as it should be anyway. That is also a plus.
The police along with medical personnel have been randomly stopping all vehicles coming into Pedasí, taking their temperatures, checking their ID, asking questions about where they are coming from, and reminding them about the policies that are being enforced. Travel to Isla Iguana is closed as is all national reserves & parks. Unfortunately, Pedasí relies a lot on tourism and that has pretty much come to a halt. The hostels & hotels have few to zero guests & future bookings. So there are less visitors to buy from the shops and restaurants. Many people in Pedasí & throughout the country are out of work. We are grateful that both our gardener and our housekeeper showed up this week, and we were glad to pay them for their service. We are grateful that we personally have not been economically affected as many have except for the few stocks we own are now worth almost nothing (but we were never relying on them anyway).
We had been invited to a St. Patrick’s Day Party this evening, but due to COVID-19, it was cancelled. I am taking this free time at home to work on some projects, update our business website: www.expatimports.com, and write (including this blog). Mikkel and I pray for those throughout the world who have contracted this disease; for the families of those who succumbed to the virus due to complications; for the doctors and nurses who continue helping those who are sick; and for those researching for a possible vaccine. We hope that COVID-19 will soon be under control, and life will return to “normal”, although it may never be the same again as what happen after 911. In our lives we have experienced the spread of other diseases, cancer, droughts, floods, fires, terrorism (911), wars, crimes, loss of loved ones, etc. But we have also experienced God’s beauty, strength, comfort, and healing which can give us perseverance, hope, and joy. We are grateful that we live in such a lovely town, in a wonderful home with a beautiful garden to enjoy during this difficult global time.
May all my readers stay healthy and safe. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
*UPDATE: Soon after posting this blog, the Pedasí mayor decreed a curfew- 9pm-5am, prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages & music in all commercial establishments, and suspended all tourism trips to Pedasí for 30 days.