After deciding to relocate from Panama to Bogotá, Colombia in 2018, I still frequent Panama quite a bit to keep up with the Panama Detour and produce new content for this website. My most recent trip to Panama was supposed to just be for two weeks has turned into an indefinite one as the Coronavirus hit. Here’s a quick update on the current Coronavirus situation in Panama and how it is affecting residents.
Current Updates (as of the publishing of this article)
- Coronavirus Cases: 1,181
- Coronavirus Deaths: 30
- Total Quarantine: Panama is currently in a state of total quarantine. Residents are allowed out two hours a day, three days a week based on the last number of their passport or ID and sex, only to go to the supermarket or pharmacy. Residents are allowed out any time for medical emergencies.
- Air Travel: The Tocumen International Airport is officially closed from March 23, 2020 – April 22, 2020.
- School Closures: Schools and universities are currently closed with the possibility of reopening again in June.
- Taxes: Tax filing requirements for 2019 have been delayed to May 30. For 2020 income, taxpayers will be able to declare an estimation of at least 70% based on their income in 2019.
- Bank Payments: Payments on credit cards, home loans, car loans, and personal loans have been frozen for the months of April, May, June, and July 2020. No payments will need to be made and there will be no penalty.
- Liquor purchases and consumption have been banned until further notice.
- The Panama Canal is still operating but has seen a sharp decline in transit. Panama’s Ministry of Health (MINSA) declared that “if a vessel has individuals who have tested positive for COVID-10 on board, it cannot make any port operations or transit the canal.”
What it’s like in Panama right now
I traveled from Bogotá to Panama City on March 12 when Coronavirus was just starting to blow up on the local news. I remember sipping wine the night before at my apartment in Bogotá with friends and having a normal time, not realizing it would be the last time we see each other for a while.
Hours after my flight landed in Panama City, this went from something that seemed so far away the night before to something major that would actually affect us by the hour. I woke up the next morning with most of my tours canceled, except for the ones immediately happening that weekend since people were already here.
On March 16, I had my last tour for a while as people canceled their future travel plans and businesses tried to hold on as long as they could. Most were now required to allow employees to work from home and restaurants were promoting delivery options through Appetito 24 and Uber Eats.
I decided to get out of the city and head to the jungle of Panama for a few nights at Kalu Yala with a few friends who were already based there. All of us are freelancers who had figured out a way to make a living by being our own boss, but never imagined we would be out of work from one day to the next. We decided to use the time to brainstorm new ideas and felt creatively motivated in a peaceful environment as the world spun into chaos. I wish I could have stayed in this utopian environment longer, but I needed to get back to the city and never imagined things would progressively more intense.
The days that followed lead to Colombia shutting their airport down to foreigners without much warning and then total shut down. My handicapped dog and apartment are in Colombia with no date of when I will actually be able to get back there. Panama followed a similar path and gave a few days notice for people to leave if they wanted to before a 30 day closing of the airport. At the time, I decided Panama wouldn’t be a bad place to quarantine instead of going to the U.S., as things hadn’t escalated. The city went from having a 9 pm curfew, to 5 pm, and now we are allowed out two-hours maximum, three days a week to go to the supermarket or pharmacy. While these measures are extreme and difficult to go through right now, it will hopefully be the fastest solution to lower the curve. The number of cases also escalated and went from having 27 cases on the day I arrived to over 1,000 today.
The city is eerily silent as nearly every business has shut down. There is a heavy police presence outside my studio apartment in Santa Ana doing random identification checks to make sure you are only outside during your hour. I’m watching a friend’s dog so I don’t feel as alone and it’s getting difficult to even be able to take her out with the new restrictions in place. I’m missing the experience of being able to walk around freely in the jungle.
Locals and business owners are scared about how they are going to pay the bills without having customers or income, especially in a city with high rental costs. The government hasn’t provided a full plan for small business owners but has at least frozen payments to the bank for three months.
Adjusting to a new lifestyle
Friends are working from home, we video chat quite a bit now and cooking almost all of my meals. The first few days of total quarantine are the worst as it takes time to get into a rhythm. I had to literally write out a daily schedule to get into a habit. I’m taking the time to finally update content on my websites PTY Life (Panama City, Panama), Bogotivo (Bogotá, Colombia), and Lima Insider (Lima, Peru). I’m also finding ways to eat healthier and stay fit and enjoying the everyday workouts through Daily Burn (highly recommend this if you haven’t tried it). I’ve made a promise to go outside on the balcony every day during sunset and have a drink (which we are technically not allowed to do either as liquor consumption has been banned).
But 2020 is a weird time to be alive. I celebrated two of my best friend’s birthdays virtually over the weekend and you do what you can to make it feel normal but it’s not. There’s a general understanding that if you stay home for two weeks then all is fine. However, I think this is just the beginning of a long time staying at home. We are doing full quarantine until announced in Panama and then once flights open back up, I’ll most likely have another two-week, strictly enforced home quarantine in Colombia.
What’s going to happen to the travel industry in Panama?
It’s scary to see how the travel industry is being affected in Panama and around the world. It was a change overnight of booking cancelations and no one looking to book another trip right now. PTY Life usually makes money from booking.com affiliate links when people book a hotel through here, and there hasn’t been a single booking since March 12. My website traffic has even dropped by 50% of what it normally is because who is looking for travel tips in Panama right now.
After things calm down, I think it will be key for travel-related businesses in Panama to switch their focus for a while to promoting LOCAL TRAVEL because it could be a while before international visitors are comfortable to leave their home countries again. This is going to include offering steep discounts on hotels and tours to entice locals, especially with many being strapped for cash with the insecurity of jobs right now. However, I am confident that people will want to travel again after being cooped up at home for so long and Panama has plenty of beautiful destinations that many locals haven’t explored. I know I’m going to spend the time writing lots of new content now so that people can start researching now what to do once they are free.
But for now, all we can do is stay at home and use this newfound time to be better than ever.