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Panamanians protest over lifting of quarantine

Trade unions took to the streets of Panama City on Tuesday in protest at the government’s decision to reopen the country’s economy, claiming it will lead to a spike in infections and deaths from the coronavirus.

“We all know that the number is going to skyrocket, both in terms of infections and deaths,” said Saul Mendez, secretary general of Suntracs, the country’s largest union.

“It’s like throwing everything the people have suffered into the trash,” Mendez told AFP.

Panama, the Central American country worst-hit by the virus with 13,000 infections and nearly 350 deaths, reopened the construction industry on Monday, as well as some mining operations, closed for months as part of a nationwide shutdown.

Mendez said the government’s decision to lift the quarantine measures after 74 days was premature and taken purely out of economic considerations and “above people’s lives.”

Protesters outside the Labor Ministry’s headquarters in Panama City said workers were being “sent to the slaughterhouse” because employers and public transport systems had failed to ensure social distancing measures and workplace protection.

The unions called on the government to more gradually ease confinement measures to lessen the possibility of a fresh spike in infections.

They accused the government of seeking to reform labor laws to benefit employers and demanded more aid for suspended workers and for small and medium sized companies.

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