Fight vs. Covid evolving in Panama toward coexisting with the virus

Panama City, Jul 6 (EFE).- Panama, one of the countries in Central America to have suffered the most cases of Covid-19, is entering a new phase in the fight against the pandemic focusing on learning to live with the virus, a situation that eventually will mean administering annual vaccinations against the coronavirus, Health Minister Luis Francisco Sucre told EFE.

“Panama has been evolving, maturing, and ultimately what we need to do is learn to live with this virus. We’re possibly going to have to have an annual vaccination, like happens with the flu. And to learn to coexist (with Covid) we’ve got to take measures,” the head of the Health Ministry (Minsa) said.

That is why starting on July 11 Panama will eliminate its facemask requirement. This measure, which was imposed in June 2020, was partially lifted in March for open-air spaces where people are not gathered in large crowds.

Starting next Monday, masks will no longer be required in any open or closed spaces in Panama, except on public transport, in hospitals and in food processing or preparation facilities. Schools will have the authority to decide whether or not students will have to wear facemasks.

Minsa continues to recommend, however, that immuno-compromised individuals and the elderly keep wearing facemasks.

The lifting of obligatory mask use, which will occur as a fifth pandemic wave is on the wane, is being done “without losing sight” of the fact that, just as in other countries, “Panama could once again have a problem” with Covid-19, Sucre admitted.

“I believe that the facemask, along with Covid, has also become part of our lives, but it’s already every individual’s choice how they live with the virus, how I want to take care of myself,” Sucre said.

Panama, with its 4.2 million citizens, is approaching one million confirmed Covid cases and had suffered 8,368 known deaths from the virus, making it one of the countries in Central America with the largest number of cases. The Pan American Health Organization has acknowledged the country’s ability to test its citizens for the virus.

The regional health organization has also emphasized Panama’s success in getting its population vaccinated, with at least 71 percent of all people over age 5 having completed their initial series of shots and 79 percent having received at least one vaccine dose, thus putting it among the countries with the largest proportion of citizens completely immunized and far above the world average of 61 percent, as of June 11.

In that regard, there are now “sufficient elements” in place to adjust the country’s focus, including the fact that the public is well-informed about the disease, the relatively low lethality of the virus in Pamana – just 0.9 percent – and the fact that the hospital network can handle the current case load, Sucre said.

In terms of its public awareness campaign about the virus, Panamanian authorities “have … educated the public: the first line of defense is myself, self-care, and we believe that the public is well informed in terms of people knowing how to take care of themselves,” he said.

The healthcare system “is prepared” and has “enough beds to attend to any group of the population that may be affected and is having problems,” with healthcare personnel having acquired “enough experience and knowing how to treat Covid cases.”

In addition, Panama has on hand medications such as Remdesivir, “which has been administered intravenously for almost two years” to those needing it, and has also acquired “the latest generation of antivirals, such as Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, which are being used to control Covid complications.”

Regarding immunization, Sucre said that “now we’re moving to the next step: the vaccination of children between six months and five years of age. We’re already coordinating buying the vaccines for those children. Panama has been evolving in step with the large countries.”

EFE gf/av/laa/bp

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