On March 31st 2020, Geraldo Alfaro, the Pan American Health Organization's Panamanian representative, was quoted as saying Panama 'has always been one step ahead' in its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak. Fast forward over two month's and the weekly average as of June 9th 2020 has increased over 422% to 448 daily cases versus an average of 106 daily cases when Alfaro made his comments.
During the same time period, Panamanian residents have experienced some of the strictest quarantine measures in the world which have allowed women outside their homes for six hours per week, and men, in most cases, for four hours per week.
With the spotlight now focused on Latin America after the WHO classed the region as the new 'hotspot', President Cortizo and his officials are under significant pressure to defend their strict plan that so far has proven unsuccessful.
Jorge Motta, former director of the Gorgas Commemorative Institute for Health Studies and former national secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation has recently criticized the government's handling of the situation stating that 'you have to do what you know and have been taught by world experiences' referring to the lack of testing and tracing within the country. Currently more than 20% of the tests conducted in Panama are returned as positive versus 17% for Peru, suggesting the situation here is even worse than Peru. What paints an even more concerning picture is the figures when compared to other countries that have already seemingly 'flattened the curve' like Ireland and the United Kingdom who both have less than 7% of their tests returned as positive – a percentage more similar to what Motta suggests we should be at in Panama.
The government came under further criticism over the direction of funding when records showed, as of May 29th 2020, that 38,860 people had been detained in the country for violating the quarantine restrictions. Social media across the country has asked for answers as to why funding wasn't directed into increased testing and a more sophisticated tracing program instead of enforcing the strict lockdown measures. The argument is fueled when comparing over 38,000 arrests versus just over 17,000 confirmed Coronavirus cases.
Questions continue to be raised around the re-introduction of the quarantine measures as of last Monday in Panama City and Panama West announced only 5 days after the curfew introduction. The measures allow women and men outside to purchase food or to exercise 6 hours per week. However if you are a man with an ID number ending in 5 or 6 you are only allowed outside 4 hours per week. It is these restrictions that seemingly discriminate against some based on gender and ID number alone, along with the increasing number of cases that are leading to many people concluding the government's plan is without strategy and simply hasn’t worked.
With nearly 4,000 confirmed cases per million people, Panama is within the 25 most worst affected countries in the world, with more cases per million than Italy, Brazil or Mexico. Although many will argue the testing rates in both Brazil and Mexico, it is clear Panama has a long way to go before the government can declare victory.
As the constitution continues to be tested and the government struggles to defend their restrictions there are growing concerns of US type protests across Panama. With no end to the restrictions in sight, the government has announced that phase 2 of the reopening plan which focuses on additional commercial operations went ahead as of June 8th 2020. Meanwhile, the Panamanian people and economy are struggling to cope as the virus continues to repress the country that was once admired for its handling of the crisis.
Source: Worldometer.com, PanaTimes June 9th 2020.