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And just like that, everything changed in an instant. That glimmer of hope is now sparkling so… we booked a flight to Panama!
Booked a flight??? What the heck are you talking about, Jim?! Just last week you talked about what it’s looking like to move back to the U.S. for the long-term.
100% true. And it was looking like it would be inevitable that we’d be putting that plan into motion over the next month or so. I ended that post with:
Hopefully, a miracle happens and we get back to the beauty Panama has to offer.
Well, on the same day that my post came out last week, Panama made a huge announcement. Nothing’s set in stone but there were a few factors that looked extremely positive… so we booked a flight back.
Although this can still fall through, I’m really excited that we might get that second year in Boquete, Panama that we wanted!
Here’s the scoop and why this isn’t a slam-dunk. Unfortunately, there’s still a decent possibility that this can still go right down the toilet.
The news we’ve been waiting for…
On Tuesday, 08/25/20, the Panamanian government finally announced a re-opening plan. This was what we’d been waiting to see for months – just something to give us an idea of what to anticipate instead of being left in the dark. Here’s a summary from MINSA (Ministry of Health of Panama):
As of September 14, the curfew is established from 11:00 pm to 5:00 am from Monday to Saturday and total quarantine on Sunday. The restriction by gender is lifted and the safe conduct is without effect, with the exception of those economic activities that require the mobilization of workers during the curfew.
As of September 21, federative sports activities are authorized (without public)
By September 28, the reopening of restaurants and inns (face-to-face service), retail trade (face-to-face), professional services pending to open, the Hippodrome without the public, would be authorized. The reopening of the national aviation, outdoor activities and activities visits to the beach (within the family bubble) are also authorized.
By October 12, international aviation, activities in the tourism sector, non-essential transportation (recreational and tourism), lifting of the curfew (including Sunday) and the National Charity Lottery will be authorized.
So here’s the deal – the curfew in Boquete is currently from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am M-F and total quarantine on the weekends. That’s first going to open up to be more reasonable along with lifting the restriction of men and women only being able to go out on separate days. Then the curfew will be lifted completely less than a month later. That’s huge!
According to the announcement, things are going to open up further as time goes on… sports (without fans present), restaurants, hotels, retail, beaches, etc.
In other words, it’s starting to become one step closer to normality there. That’s a big deal because it would be tough to consider going back if we were just going to have to go back to life in lockdown.
Finally, on October 12, the curfew will be lifted completely and tourist activities can resume, along with hotels, libraries, pools, etc. But most importantly, international flights can resume! Non-residents like ourselves will be able to fly back to Panama!
There’s still not a date yet for the opening of:
- Schools, colleges, universities, and third-level institutions
- Nursery schools
- Cinemas, theaters, museums, galleries, and closed tourist sites
- Children’s entertainment halls
- Bars, canteens, gardens, discos
- Concerts, fairs, carnivals, parades, and other activities
So it ain’t going to be 100% back to “normal” but that’s to be expected in these times. Just going back to having some freedom to move about again there will make it worthwhile.
When we left Panama on a humanitarian flight at the beginning of July to come back to the U.S., we knew we were taking a chance. We struggled with the decision because we knew the borders were closed and we had no idea when (or if) we were going to be able to get back.
Since then, we’ve been spending time with family and friends and enjoying our time back here. But overall, we still wanted to get back to Panama if possible. We were just about ready to throw in the towel, but now we’re seeing this light at the end of the tunnel!
So you booked a flight back? But…
There’s always a “but” isn’t there?! Well, this time, the “but” is out of our hands and up to Panama. The re-opening plan includes one major caveat on the schedule…
It will be essential for the lifting of mobility restrictions and the reopening of economic activities, to maintain the effective reproduction rate of 1 or below 1%, the fatality rate below 3%, availability of beds in the room 20 % and the availability of beds in the Respiratory Care Units and in the Intensive Care Units by 15%.
In a nutshell, if the virus cases start to flair up too much, that schedule can either be pushed back or thrown out the window completely.
That’s a pretty big “but”, isn’t it? My hope is obviously that people are still careful to help try to keep the virus contained as much as possible. I also think that the government dropped this schedule because they think it gives a good incentive for folks to do exactly that. And I’m hoping it was released because they believe it’s attainable.
If not though and things go south, are chances of returning to Panama go back to the wayside. We also need to set a deadline for ourselves on what we’ll do if things get pushed back a week or two… and then another week or two, and so on. Eventually, we would just need to call it and say, “I guess we’re staying in the U.S.”
So this “but” is huge – it determines our entire future. If things go well, we’ll be returning to Panama this fall. If not, we’ll have to figure out where we’re going to live in the U.S… that’s a big weight to hold onto while we wait.
Don’t forget about the unknowns…
Although the announcement from the Panamanian government has gotten us excited, there are still a few major unknowns.
The schedule is still extremely vague. They haven’t released all the details yet so we’re left with some questions… big questions:
1) Will they be allowing foreigners from the U.S. into the country?
A lot of countries still aren’t open up to U.S. citizens and I can’t blame them. We’ve done a horrible job of managing this virus and our numbers don’t look pretty. Personally, I don’t think the U.S. will be excluded specifically, and instead, I’d imagine they’d rely on individual testing, but it’s always a possibility.
2) Is a COVID test going to be mandatory to get in?
I’m sure this will be a requirement in some fashion, but what will be the provisions? Will it be an antibody test or something like the fun and invasive PCR test with the swab tickling your brain? My hope is that the saliva test becomes more widespread by then, but time will tell.
Currently, only residents can fly into Panama provided they present a Swab Test Certificate / PCR or negative antigens with a maximum of 48 hours prior to boarding the flight. That seems fair, but it’s a lot harder to get a test here than you’d think. We’ll have to see how that plays out. And we’d need to make sure that we get the results in time which is another issue that we seem to be struggling with here.
Then you throw in the possibility that we do end up contracting the disease before this trip and that would lead to an almost zero chance of us going back regardless. We’ve been careful, but it might be time to step up our game.
3) Will a mandatory quarantine be in place?
Similar to the COVID test, residents flying in are being asked to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive. My understanding is that it’s being enforced through an app on your phone along with an assigned medical person you regularly chat with during that time to ensure you’re complying.
We’re fine with these requirements as long as we can make them happen and get back in.
Why we booked a flight now instead of waiting
The smart move would be to just wait until we know that the schedule is going to hold up and what the requirements will be. That way we’d know when to book, what we’re up against, and if we can make this even work.
However, there’s one reason why we booked a flight now instead of waiting until we have all the details… United’s cancellation policy.
We booked a flight through United and they have a waiver policy in place for flights taking place this year that are booked on or before August 31, 2020. They’re not offering refunds but they will let you make an itinerary change without charging a fee:
For tickets issued between April 1, 2020, and August 31, 2020, customers will be permitted to change without paying a change fee to a flight of equal or lesser value for travel up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date.https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/notices.html#ChangeFeeTerms
It’s not perfect, but since we booked a flight before that deadline, at least we can make a change without a fee if Panama changes the schedule. If we had waited and booked a flight later and then they had a surge, we’d be penalized for changing.
And in a worst-case scenario, if we can’t move back to Panama, I’m sure we’ll happily find somewhere else to travel to in the next year.
UPDATE: United just announced they are “permanently getting rid of change fees for most Economy and premium cabin tickets for flights within the U.S.” The site also mentions “We’re allowing changes without fee for both types of travel [domestic and international] if the ticket is issued by December 31, 2020.” Regardless, I thought that was some worthwhile information to share.
We’re excited about this glimmer of hope that came out last week. When we left Panama, we left without any closure. It was abrupt and we got screwed on our time there.
Getting back to Boquete, Panama to enjoy at least one more year would really be wonderful. I hope that this all does come to fruition, but I guess time will tell!
Things will need to fall into place perfectly for this to work. What do you think – should we have booked a flight yet?