Panama lets some businesses reopen after 5-month lockdown

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Panama allowed hair salons, retail shops and car lots to open Monday after five months of lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government also allowed public and private construction projects to resume and nongovernmental organizations to reopen in a bid to restart the teetering economy.

“We can’t wait any longer inside our houses,” said José Vergara, a 60-year-old reopening his small barbershop on the outskirts of the capital for the first time since March.

There was some question as to how many people were still obeying the quarantine anyway. Traffic jams are once again commonplace and reports of beach visits and parties at the homes of government officials grew more frequent.

“I believe we can begin lifting the quarantine and start to go out into the street,” said Dr. Jorge Luis Prospero, former representative of the Pan-American Health Organization in Ecuador and Nicaragua. “I base that on the fact that since July 1 we have maintained a relatively stable number of new cases and deaths.”

Panama’s economy is expected to shrink between 2% and 4% this year and unemployment has doubled to 14%.

The hair salons and barbershops will only operate with appointments and 50% of their capacity. Retail sales will be allowed via internet or telephone with delivery of the purchases or pickup at designated locations.

As of Sunday, Panama reported nearly 82,000 infections and more than 1,700 deaths.