Since the entire world is on virtual lockdown due to the corona virus, I thought I’d send an update on how I’m faring here in Boquete, Panama. As of March 22, there have been 245 confirmed cases of the virus, with three deaths. All but one of the cases (and all of the deaths) have been located in and around Panama City, where approximately half of Panama’s population lives. I live in the western part of Panama, about a six hour drive from Panama City. There has been only one case in my portion of the country, in a city at least an hour’s drive from where I live.
Panama has been proactive to reduce the spread of the virus. A week ago, all incoming flights from Europe and Asia were cancelled, and as of tonight, ALL flights, both incoming and outgoing, are cancelled. People are told to stay home unless necessary to buy groceries or medicines, and non-essential businesses are closed. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and hospitals are open, but precautions are taken to limit the number of people in the facilities and ensure a safe distance is maintained. A curfew has been imposed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., and is being enforced by the police. Only residents of Boquete are (theoretically) allowed past the checkpoint, and must show proof of residence. I’ve heard from several people that this is NOT being enforced – at least not consistently.
I bought groceries a few days ago. There was a health official at the door, keeping track of how many people entered and left the store. The shelves were full, and the handful of shoppers I saw were not buying an excessive amount of goods – no “panic buying” in evidence here.
Restaurants are allowed to continue operations, with only carry-out and home delivery allowed. Before the virus, only a couple of restaurants offered home delivery, but that has become a necessary adjustment to their business model.
One peculiar rule has puzzled me a bit, though – all sales and consumption of liquor has been prohibited until April 7. Apparently THIS is what has triggered the only cases of panic buying that I’ve heard of here. In the hours before the cut-off of sales, people were rushing to the stores to buy cart-loads of beer, wine, and spirits to stock up for the duration of the quarantine. No gatherings of people are allowed, so maybe that rule was implemented to discourage partying, and perhaps because when people are drunk, they tend to make poor decisions regarding safety.
One of my friends wasn’t about to let the “no gatherings” rule stop him from providing some much-needed entertainment and boredom relief! He performs at various venues around town, and since that’s not possible at the moment, he was thoughtful and generous enough to set up a live video in his living room to allow us to join him on Facebook for a socially-distant but thoroughly enjoyable two-hour concert. Here’s a link to the replay. Enjoy!
As for me, daily life hasn’t changed drastically. I stay home quite a bit anyway, so home quarantine isn’t a big deal for me. I already work from home, so that’s exactly the same. I watch TV, read, or play computer games – again, fairly normal activities. The part that has changed is that I had to cancel a trip I was planning to take in a couple of weeks to OKC for my polymer clay retreat, and to catch up with friends there. That was disappointing! Other “fun stuff” here in Boquete has also been cancelled or postponed – our weekly drum circle, SausageFest (a contest among local chefs to see who makes the best sausage), a day trip to an orchid farm, and a production of Noel Coward’s “Blythe Spirit” play.
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the lovely weather, the green mountains, and the sweet songs of the birds. This little bird likes to perch outside my bathroom window and sing his little heart out each morning.
Life will be eventually go back to normal (perhaps a “new normal”) after this crisis has passed. Maybe this crisis will wake us up to a new way of thinking. One can only hope. And speaking of hope, the video below was sent to me by a friend, and it’s the most sane and positive viewpoint I’ve heard on this event.
Stay safe, remain calm, and obey the safety guidelines, and we’ll all get through this together…
UPDATE 3/24/20: As of today, there are now 443 virus cases and eight deaths, including a 13-year-old child. There is now at least one confirmed case in Boquete. The entirety of Panama will be on 24-hour in-home quarantine, as of 5:00 a.m. tomorrow. We are only permitted to be out of our homes for two hours to buy groceries or medicines, with the allowed times based on the last digit of our cedula (government ID) or passport number. Seniors over 60 are allowed to shop from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., regardless of their ID number. Hopefully this tighter regulation, and rigorous enforcement of it, will result in a shorter time frame and fewer people affected. As they say, flatten the curve!