As a reader of this blog you have shown an interest in Panama as a retirement destination, or as a new start in life. The Coronavirus, around the world has changed things for all of us. What is the world after COVID-19 going to be like? And when will the world start getting back to normal?
Many countries around the world have started their “back to new normal”, and Panama is about to as well. Is it time? Is it too early? Panama has really locked us down here, since Case 0, which was just 50 days ago. Panama flattened the curve for new cases a few weeks ago, and with recoveries, both clinical and tested, we have less active cases than we did 3 weeks ago. And, our R0 (contagion number) is below 1, so yes, it is time to slowly reopen.
The ministry of transport has announced the opening of Tocuman Airport (which has been closed for nearly 2 months) for May 22nd. Copa Airlines, the country’s biggest carrier has announced reopening on June 1st. This is going to be a slow opening for them through June, starting with only 12% of their flights and moving up from there.
Our president announced yesterday that starting next week and the week after, the economy will be slowly reopening and easing restrictions. How will that look? We will discuss possibilities in a bit.
First, let us look at where Panama is now, and how we got here. We are one of the countries that went into a total lock down. We have had a full quarantine for almost 6 weeks, with the ability to go out and buy food or medicine, 3 times a week in an allotted hour. The only things open for business are food stores, pharmacies, banks, restaurants with takeout or delivery, and the agriculture sector.
This allowed us to flatten the curve for daily new cases within the first 4 weeks of quarantine, as you see in the Daily Cases chart. Then the Active Daily Cases, which takes into account daily recoveries, now shows more recoveries than new cases. Out of our 6,720 total number of cases, as of today, May 1st, more than ½ have recovered, but unfortunately we have had 192 fatalities. Currently we only have 85 cases in ICU, which has been trending down in the last few weeks. **Disclaimer: Since Panama decided that they would not double test clinical recovered patients, only hospital patients, our recoveries are divided into lab recovered and clinical recovered (no symptoms after 21 days of positive tests) the chart to the right takes into case all recoveries and deaths and is an estimation of daily recoveries.
What total quarantine also did, is control the hoarding in the grocery stores. The agricultural sector has remained working and since Panama is very self sustainable in food, store shelves have stayed full for the most part. However, closing down everything has not been easy, especially on the Panamanian people, of whom 1/3 live payday to payday, and small businesses. The government did step in with the 90 day moratorium on loans, credit cards and utility payments, to help people get by. Just one week after lock down they packed up 1,000,000 bags of emergency food relief and started the distribution to those most in need. They also developed an electronic program, using the national ID card, to get cash to many Panamanians. I am hoping they have some assistance available for small businesses going forward, as many of them are going to need some help, especially the smaller hotels and restaurants, to support Panama’s large and diverse tourism sector.
One of the big things to realize, if you are considering Panama as a home, is what total quarantine actually means. Some of you may have visions of China, South Africa, or other locations with the military in the streets arresting violators and throwing them in prison. Well, it is not like that here, Panama has no military, and never will because of its constitution. The police, peace officers, and health officials are managing the quarantine. Violators get a $50 – $100 traffic ticket, not a criminal offense. There are protests in Panama, mostly about the lack of food in some areas, but they have been small and have not gotten out of hand.
How does Panama come out of this? Panama’s government has really been watching and learning from other countries on how to do this and has a plan. With our current contagion number below a R0, and daily cases flat with more recoveries daily, it is safe to start moving ahead with reopening.The government says it will announce some things next week, but I see an easing of movement restrictions, allowing businesses like the maids, gardeners, hardware stores, and some restaurants to start opening, but with continued watch on the numbers to ensure they are getting better.
I think we all realize, at least for the next 6 months, the “new normal” will be a little different. I think we will see masks in shopping centers for many months, restaurants at 50% capacity, every other seat in a movie theater closed, and many other types of social distancing. But, with the recent advancements we are seeing in treatments, a vaccine probably coming earlier than we thought. I have a very positive outlook on things, here in Panama, and around the world.
Below are some great media stories about Panama and this crisis.
And Panama is looking strong. Moody’s reported on April 15, reaffirming Panama’s Baa1 credit rating (just 1 notch below an A) , projecting Panama’s economy retracting only 1% for 2020, which will make Panama the strongest country in the region once again. Source
The Panamá Canal Exceeded Cargo and Transit Projections Despite COVID-19, reported in the first half of its fiscal year close as of March 31, 2020. In fiscal year 2019, the channel broke its revenue record ($ 3.365 billion) and cargo (450.7 million tons). Despite the challenges over COVID-19 , “our numbers show that world trade is still moving ,” Canal administrator Ricaurte Vásquez said in a statement. Source
This is a great article about Panama’s early response to the Virus: “Preparation Is Key”: Lessons from Panama’s Pandemic Response Read HERE
This coming week, as we start our journey back to normal, our Tourism Authority has announced the return of a great program. Tourists coming to Panama, when we are reopened, will be given 30 days free health care. This program was in effect and very successful from 2009 – 2014, and we are excited to see it come back, as it is a great bonus for the tourists sector, and great for the tourists themselves. Source
So, bottom line is, Retire in Panama Tours will be there for you as things start getting back to normal. Things may be different on our first few tours, but we are prepared to do what is necessary to comply with rules and keep our guests safe. We don’t know the exact date of our first operational tour yet, but hopefully we will by the end of the month, but all of you that have booked, we are committed to get you to Panama this year, to show you all the great things the country has to offer you.
For those of you that have not booked, and are still thinking this year, later in fall, get on our Back Up List, to see if we can get you a spot. If we add more tours this fall, those on the Back Up List will have first priority.
For those of you thinking 2021, we still have openings every month, as we are continuing with our NO DEPOSIT Bookings until we have open airports. Book your spot HERE.
Oscar, Megan and Rod, are very excited to show each and everyone of you Panama, and look forward to seeing you on our upcoming Q & A’s and talking with you via emails and phone calls. Don’t be a stranger, reach out to us with your questions.
It’s more than a tour . . it’s an experience.