The Ministry of Health announced earlier in December a series of measures to be implemented over the holiday season and into January 2021 in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19; particularly in the Panama City metropolitan area, in the provinces of Panama and Panama Oeste. In order to decrease traffic in grocery and retail stores during the holidays, a measure was implemented nationwide where men and women would shop on alternating days from December 21 – December 31. This applied to every province, including Bocas del Toro.
Also announced were total quarantine weekends where no movement would be permitted nationwide, which was to take place over Christmas, New Years and the weekend of January 9 and 10.
On December 28 it was announced that the provinces of Panama and Panama Oeste, the places with the highest amount of COVID-19 infection, would enter an extended period of quarantine after New Years from January 4-14, 2021; where men and women would again alternate shopping days, and furthermore, would only be able to leave for two designated hours each shopping day, depending on the last digit of their personal ID. These measures were clearly for the provinces of Panama and Panama Oeste, but what was not exactly clear was whether the alternating shopping days would continue to apply to Bocas del Toro coming out of the New Years lockdown. Confusion ensued in the supermarkets on Monday, January 4, where it was a day not everyone knew exactly who was permitted to shop for groceries.
Questions were asked on social media. Men ventured out to the streets of Bocas Town with their empty shopping bags not knowing whether they would return home with food in them or not. Women shopped confidently knowing that either way, whether the gender restrictions were in place or not: Monday was a day they were destined to return home with groceries. Whether the ladies would be able to shop on Tuesday remained to be seen.
We received reports of some stores welcoming men to shop, while other establishments turned them away and were only allowing women to shop, believing the gender restrictions to still be in effect. We consulted with the local police Monday afternoon who also believed the alternating gender shopping days to be the current rule of law.
We also consulted with the Bocas del Toro Ministry of Health and they stated that these gender restrictions only apply to the provinces of Panama and Panama Oeste. This was also confirmed on the social media of the Ministry of Health, published the very same Monday January 4, seemingly clarifying the situation.
In conclusion, though there is still a bit of confusion: there are currently no shopping restrictions based on gender in the province of Bocas del Toro.