Panama’s COVID-19 crisis worsening, warns president

Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo warned Wednesday that his country faced a worsening health crisis in the coming weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In an Instagram message marking his first year in office, Cortizo said the virus was subjecting his country to “unprecedented and demanding tests.”

“We are convinced that in the case of Panama the most difficult phase in this global situation is to come.”

Panama is the Central American country worst hit from the pandemic, with more than 33,500 infections and 631 deaths, according to official figures.

Cortizo’s first year in office has been tarnished by corruption scandals linked to the government’s management of the pandemic that have sparked street protests in recent weeks.

Prosecutors are investigating the alleged embezzlement of funds used to purchase respirators and sanitizing gel, as well as suspected corruption in the construction of a prefabricated hospital.

Cortizo last month fired the health minister and two other cabinet ministers over the scandals.

“The pandemic has overwhelmed Cortizo,” political analyst Enoch Adames, of the University of Panama, told AFP.

Infections have soared in recent weeks, and hospitals are on the verge of collapse.

Medical unions have denounced staff shortages and poor working conditions which they say is hindering the country’s fight against the pandemic.

Authorities say the increasing number of cases is a reflection of more testing.

Some 200,000 people have been laid off during a nationwide lockdown, though the country is currently in the first phase of a gradual reopening.

The government expects GDP to contract by 2.0 percent this year. (AFP)

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