Jordan relaxes curfew over COVID-19 as stringent confinement rules proved difficult to enforce

"We are still in the midst of the crisis and the number of infected cases is increasing, which does not call for relaxing but rather pushes us to consider other strict measures,” said Jordanian Media Affairs Minister Amjad Adaileh.
Sunday 29/03/2020
Fighting contagion. Cars being disinfected in Amman. (Roufan Nahhas)
Fighting contagion. Cars being disinfected in Amman. (Roufan Nahhas)

AMMAN - Jordan relaxed a strict curfew that was imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus after government attempts to deliver essential food supplies were unsuccessful.

The curfew, under which people were locked down, was frequently violated and more than 2,000 people were arrested and 900 vehicles confiscated.

Jordanian King Abdullah II, who called for strict confinement measures to safeguard citizens’ health, had ordered the government to cover people’s needs for basic food during the curfew.

However, chaotic distribution of goods, which saw people fighting and ignoring social distancing requirements, forced officials to relax restrictions on shopping and reopen small markets and bakeries.

The virus had caused one death in Jordan where 235 people were infected.

While most citizens welcomed the government’s decision to relax confinement measures, others defied remaining regulations by going out without proper protection. The government warned that it might re-impose total lockdown conditions that previously turned Amman into a ghost city.

“We don’t want this flexibility to encourage people to exercise negative behaviour, such as leaving home for no good reason or neglecting precautionary measures,” said Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs Amjad Adaileh.

“We are still in the midst of the crisis and the number of infected cases is increasing, which does not call for relaxing but rather pushes us to consider other strict measures.”

Home delivery services were suspended to give the Jordanian National Committee for Epidemics time to review safety procedures. Several new delivery companies emerged but none had been given permission to start operations.

A Jordanian couple, in quarantine at the Marriott Hotel in the Dead Sea area where more than 200 cases were being monitored, said they were anxiously awaiting clearance to return home to Amman.

Ayman Halaseh, 52, and his family returned from the United Arab Emirates 10 days ago and were allowed on the flight home only after accepting to be quarantined for 14 days after reaching Jordan.

“We arrived at the same time as travellers coming from the UK and we tried not to mingle with any of them at the airport. Buses took us to the Marriott Hotel and we were given each a room where we are confined,” Halaseh said.

“Being in quarantine is not an easy thing but the hotel management made everything easy and we thank them. The government had a good plan to host people coming from abroad and their assistance was very helpful in lifting our spirits. There are 200 rooms occupied and mingling is not allowed,” he said.

“We are being monitored since we arrived at the airport where temperature-detecting machines checked each one of us. Also, at the hotel, an in-house doctor is available round the clock to check on any suspected symptoms. So far, we have not heard of any cases here but still we have to stay four more days,” Halaseh added.

“In the UK and the US governments were late to impose confinement and social distancing but here in Jordan the king and the prime minister reacted quickly. While some countries were worried about their economy, Jordan was worried about its people’s health,” he said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a 4-year, $1.3 billion loan for Jordan at a time it was taking measures to cushion its economy from the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.

The extended fund facility programme was anchored by Jordan's commitments to make structural reforms designed to lower electricity costs for businesses and create incentives for them to hire more young people, the IMF said.

The programme was designed before the coronavirus outbreak but changes were made to support unbudgeted spending covering emergency outlays and medical supplies and equipment.

"If the effect of the outbreak is deep enough to put at risk programme objectives, the programme will be adapted further to the changed circumstances, upon reaching understandings with the authorities," the IMF said.

Jordanian Finance Minister Mohamad al-Ississ told Reuters that the loan approval “signals confidence in Jordan's economic reform process and support for our efforts to mitigate the impact of the virus on vulnerable economic sectors and individuals."