Panama to offer vaccine tourism packages from October 1. If you’re unvaccinated, you can come to Panama for at least two nights and get your shot under a new initiative to boost tourism.
One of the more curious stories of the pandemic emerged last week with the news that Panama plans to offer Covid vaccines to tourists from October 1 as a way to boost its economy.
It will make Panama the first vaccine tourism destination in Latin America, following in the footsteps of the United States, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the Maldives, and Indonesia.
Some states in the United States in particular have been attracting tourists from vaccine-stretched Latin American countries with full packages including flights, accommodations, and transfers to/from the vaccine site.
Para seguir aportando a la recuperación económica del país, en #ConsejoDeGabinete se aprobó el proyecto que crea el Programa Vacutur, una iniciativa que contribuirá a la reactivación de más de 100,000 empleos, permitiendo que extranjeros puedan hacer turismo de vacuna. pic.twitter.com/d3KHOKvPgc
— Presidencia de Panamá (@presidenciapma) September 16, 2021
Panama would like to take some of that Latin American market from the U.S. with its Vacutur-Panama initiative.
Tourists coming to Panama for a Covid vaccination will need to stay for a minimum of two nights in a hotel and be over the age of 30. They can either stay in Panama for the six weeks required between the two injections, or leave the country and return for their second jab.
Panama has a surplus supply of AstraZeneca vaccine after receiving half-a-million doses of Pfizer in July as a donation from the United States. It plans to use these for tourists coming under the Vacutur scheme.
Individual hotels and travel agents would arrange the vaccination details for tourists.
The Panamanian government says they expect this initiative to bring over $325 million into the economy and help reactivate thousands of jobs in the decimated tourism sector.
This might be a good move for people elsewhere in Central America who can’t get a visa to enter the United States and don’t want to wait for a vaccine in their own countries. Also for perpetual tourists in the region ineligible for a vaccine as they’re not citizens or legal residents.
There are stumbling blocks, though. For example, if you’re coming to Panama unvaccinated from Costa Rica or Guatemala, you’ll need to quarantine for 72 hours in a hotel. That means you’ll need a minimum of five nights in Panama, rather than two.
Full details are murky, but it’s looking like Panama will automatically quarantine all unvaccinated travelers coming from “high-risk” countries (including Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the U.S.). #panama https://t.co/xsUt6zg9xu
— CentralAmericaLiving (@VidaAmerica) September 2, 2021
The whole concept of vaccine tourism is a tricky one, with compelling arguments for and against.
Those advocating for vaccine tourism programs like Vacutur-Panama say they’re a great way to boost struggling economies and create jobs lost to the pandemic. They give people an excuse to get on planes and travel again.
Panama desperately needs this tourism boost – before the pandemic, tourism represented 11% of GDP and and employed over 100,000 people. Many of these jobs have disappeared and still not returned. Indeed, Apatel, the Panamanian Hotel Association applauded the initiative, saying they were “sure it was essential for the reactivation of the economy“.
The flip side argument is that these programs help create even more inequality between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. It’s hard to deny this. Wealthier people in poorer countries can just get on a plane, leaving their poorer countrymen behind. Is this fair? And if Panama has surplus vaccine to give to tourists as a way of boosting its hotel economy, wouldn’t it be a better idea to donate those vaccines to its struggling neighbors instead?
We expect more details on the Vacutur-Panama initiative to emerge next week.
James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.