Panama hospitals on verge of collapse as virus cases surge

A nurse wears her protective suit at the Intensive Care Unit of the Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital Complex, in Panama City on July 04, 2020. Panama is the country with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in Central America and the Caribbean. (AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

Panama hospitals on verge of collapse as virus cases surge

  • With a population of four million, Panama has gone from 200 cases a day to 1,100 over the last few weeks
  • Authorities estimate that of every 100 people infected, 20 end up in hospital

PANAMA CITY: Hospitals in Panama are on the brink of collapse as coronavirus cases spike in the Central American country worst hit by the pandemic, where doctors are already exhausted.
With a population of four million, Panama has gone from 200 cases a day to 1,100 over the last few weeks.
“Our daily number of infected patients has been increasing in a sustained way to the point of passing 1,000 cases,” David Villalobos, head of the intensive care unit at the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital in Panama City, told AFP.
“There are no hospitals that could sustain such a number,” he said.
The sharp increase has forced authorities to adapt existing hospitals and look for new spaces, like convention centers, to boost a health system with a range of problems including long waiting lists.
“The fear of the collapse of the public system in our country is evident if the number of cases remains the same,” Domingo Moreno, coordinator of a coalition of health care workers’ unions, told AFP.
“In the next two weeks we probably won’t have anywhere to put beds.”
With 42,000 cases and 839 deaths, Panama has the worst official tally of coronavirus infections in the region.

According to official figures, close to 20,000 people are in isolation at home or in hotels. Another 1,000 are receiving hospital treatment, 159 of whom are in intensive care.
Authorities estimate that of every 100 people infected, 20 end up in hospital — meaning that at the current rate, 200 people a day are being admitted to hospital, and 50 to intensive care.
“It’s exhausting, sometimes we have to go back at night for admissions. But here we are,” Giselle Sanchez, a doctor caring for the most serious COVID-19 patients, told AFP.
Doctors and nurses around the country have protested in recent weeks demanding medical supplies and protective equipment.
“There’s fear of infection, of being in a situation that puts your life at risk. This is a war of attrition,” said Moreno.
President Laurentino Cortizo recently pledged to carry out 4,000 tests a day to find and isolate those infected.
But some people, like Silda Idalia Rios, are afraid of taking the test because of rumors circulating about the pandemic.
The virus “has come to attack us,” she told AFP, conceding that “you need to accept that you have to take a test to see if it’s positive.”
Health Minister Francisco Sucre said he was aware of a significant group of people continuing to go out despite knowing they had contracted COVID-19, making it harder to get the outbreak under control.
“We are directly dependent on what the people can do or prevent in the street. The people really need to understand that we’re going to collapse,” said Malena Urrutia, from the COVID-19 coordination team at the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital.
Cortizo said: “As president I would like to tell you that it’s over, but it isn’t. We still don’t have a vaccine. The battle goes on.”


Afghan assembly approves release of 400 ‘hard-core’ Taliban prisoners

Updated 1 min 4 sec ago

Afghan assembly approves release of 400 ‘hard-core’ Taliban prisoners

  • Some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, on Sunday approved the release of 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners, paving the way for the beginning of peace talks aimed at ending more than 19 years of war.
“In order to remove an obstacle, allow the start of the peace process and an end of bloodshed, the Loya Jirga approves the release of 400 Taliban,” the assembly said in a resolution.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had convened the assembly in the capital Kabul, where some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered amid tight security and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.
The Taliban militants had insisted they be released as a condition for entering peace talks with the government. With the release, the Afghan government will fulfil its pledge to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Western diplomats said talks between the warring parties will start in Doha this week.
Deliberation around the release of last batch of Taliban prisoners, accused of conducting some of the bloodiest attacks across Afghanistan, had triggered outrage among civilians and rights groups who questioned the morality of the peace process.
But ahead of November elections, US President Donald Trump is determined to fulfil a major campaign promise of ending America’s longest war.
The drawdown will bring the number of US troops to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.
In a February pact allowing for the withdrawal of US troops, Washington and the Taliban agreed on the release of the Taliban prisoners as a condition for the talks with Kabul.