Panama has implemented gender-based social distancing regulations to help tackle the coronavirus crisis, but the move has raised "dread" among members of the transgender community.

Already under a near total lockdown, Panamanian authorities decreed this week that men could only leave home to go shopping on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with women allowed to do so on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

No one is allowed out on Sundays.

Before that, Panama had already closed its borders, suspended school classes, banned foreigners from entering the country and imposed a lockdown that left open a two-hour window allowing people to leave their homes to purchase essential items.

But the new measure, which came into effect on Wednesday, has left transgender people worried they will be the targets of discrimination.

Ali, a 25-year-old illustrator who works as a tattoo artist is a transgender man, but his identity card states he's a woman.

"My biggest fear, obviously, is the police, who aren't trained or sensitized to this subject and I don't know what attitude they will take with me," he told AFP.

"I'm 100 percent sure I'll be stopped in the street and seeing as I don't fit the mold ... I don't know if they'll be aggressive. That's what scares me," added Ali.

A highway in Panama City was completely empty on March 25, 2020
A highway in Panama City was completely empty on March 25, 2020 AFP / Luis Acosta

The Association of New Men and Women of Panama, which defends LGBT+ rights in the Central American country, said the measures had caused "dread."

"There are still police patrols who use the argument that God only created Adam and Eve," association president Ricardo Beteta told AFP. "What does a transgender person do in this situation?"

Panama is not the only Latin American country to have taken this measure, with Peru announcing an identical policy on Thursday.

Authorities in Panama insist it's merely aimed at controlling the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

"This total confinement has one sole objective: to save lives," said Interior Minister Juan Pino.

Like many other countries in Latin America, Panamanian authorities have hit out at the failure of many citizens of the country of just over four million to respect the coronavirus restrictions, hence the need to tighten those restrictions.

The "simplest mechanism" to reduce the number of people in the street was therefore "to attribute certain days to women and certain days to men," said Pino.

The measures are due to last two weeks. Recently, police patrols and controls have increased in the Panamanian capital, with police also checking the identity cards of supermarket customers.

As of Thursday, Panama had reported close to 1,500 coronavirus cases and 37 deaths.