On Monday, March 9th, 2020, Panama officially recorded its first case of Coronavirus, or COVID-19. As of today, April 25th, 2020, there are 5,338 officially recorded cases nationwide (Ministerio de Salud, 2020, http://minsa.gob.pa/coronavirus-covid19). Since the beginning the Panamanian government, led by Presidente Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo, has ramped up efforts to slow the curve of infected citizens so as not to overwhelm their healthcare infrastructure and capacity. The economy has come to a slow crawl as people are practicing social distancing and self-quarantine. To date, the government has implemented a progressive lockdown strategy to keep people in their homes and have as little movement as possible out in the streets. It began with mandatory curfews in the evening and early mornings and as of now an individual that doesn’t work in an essential job or have a special permit is only allowed to leave their home six hours a week. The government has regulated movement by biological sex and the last number in a person’s identification number. Women are allowed to leave their homes Monday-Wednesday-Friday and men are allowed to leave Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. Each number 0-9 corresponds to two hours between the hours of 6:30 AM to 7:30 PM that you are allowed to leave your home and be out in public. For example, a man with the last number of 8 in his ID number would be allowed to leave his home Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday between the hours of 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM. Before 7:30 or after 9:30 he risks either being fined or arrested by the police, depending on the circumstances. As the outbreak spreads throughout the country, more and more provinces are becoming affected and the Ministry of Health has increased testing and is finding more cases. Since our work is focused in the province of Colón, specifically the Costa Arriba region, we have been communicating with our counterparts and other community members in the area to get more information as to what is happening in our area of work.
There are currently 128 cases (Ministerio de Salud, 2020, http://minsa.gob.pa/coronavirus-covid19) in the entire province of Colón. The Costa Arriba region so far has only one case in the corregimiento of María Chiquita. We have spoken to several of our counterparts and other community members of the region to get an idea of what they’re experiencing and what measures they are taking to combat the virus and its spread.
Coronavirus in Colón
The general reaction from those who live in Costa Arriba, Colón is that they are taking things seriously, but things are relatively peaceful compared to other regions of the country. The communities have to follow the orders that the federal government has issued but with a general lack of policing in the region there is still a level of flexibility to the law. People are staying at home and avoiding contact with others more than they normally would but they have not practiced social distancing or self-quarantine to the degree of those who live in Panama City or even the city of Colón. People seem to be moving around more or less when they need to and not rigidly following the identification number nor biological sex policy that the government has instituted on a national level. Living in a rural area has acted much like its own form of isolation and people have even mentioned that they are not particularly worried that the virus will have a heavy impact in the region.
Medical personnel have commented that the medical capacity of the region is still stable. The patients that show up to the clinics come for other medical reasons that are not related to COVID-19. There are only a couple cases in María Chiquita (Ministerio de Salud, 2020, http://minsa.gob.pa/coronavirus-covid19) and those are the only cases of the Costa Arriba region. So the clinics further up the coast haven’t had to diagnose any cases and they are functioning as normal. The isolated nature of these communities has served in protecting them too. Since there is only one road that goes up the coast, it is easy for authorities to patrol and set up checkpoints so as not to let people from the cities into the coastal communities. This has been the only real concern of the residents of these communities. They are aware of how badly urban areas are being hit so they don’t want people from those areas trying to escape to more rural regions of the province.
The government, the local governments as well as the federal government, has taken a role in taking care of its citizens during the economic slowdown due to the lockdowns and quarantines. They are handing out food bags as well as stimulus checks to those who are not working or have lost work due to the pandemic. The local governments have taken the biggest role in their respective communities due simply to their geographic proximity to the affected people and the local knowledge they have of every resident’s individual needs.
Small business owners are also playing their part in the quarantine and lockdown. Local supermarkets have begun only tending to customers through the iron gates so that people can still make purchases but can’t enter the building. Some businesses have closed down and are waiting out the pandemic. Some businesses have seen a drop in clientele and others no. Supermarkets for example are still receiving clients because people need food. The local internet cafés are not receiving as many clients because school is out so students aren’t using the internet for school work and people aren’t using their money to spend on internet time when they need to divert it to necessities such as food.
Here in Panama as in the entire world, we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases. The government is utilizing ever increasing controls over the population so as to lower the infection rate and stem the tide of infections per day. Scientists are uniting across the country to aid in the creation of tests and reactives in the test. The population is under strict national decrees and are following them properly, especially in Panama City. With education, discipline, and solidarity, we will beat the virus and return to life as we knew it before.