Cabinet orders sweeping closure of public, private sectors amid rise in cases
As the number of people with novel coronavirus rose to 34, including nine foreigners, Jordan applied on Tuesday what it calls the Defense Law, placing the kingdom in a state of emergency.
The cabinet announced a full closure of the private and public sectors for two weeks, beginning at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, except for health services, grocery stores, bakeries, butchers and ration-distribution centers, as well as water, electricity and fuel supply chains.
Prior to the Defense Law coming into effect, the Public Health Law, one step lower in alert status, was instated. Under that law, restaurants, malls, public transportation and roads between governorates were ordered closed.
The Jordanian army was ordered to deploy at entrances to major cities. People were allowed to leave their homes only in urgent cases, and gatherings of more than 10 persons were prohibited.
In addition, newspapers will not be printed, as they are thought to help transmit the virus.
“The activation of the Public Health Law gives the health minister, in case of an outbreak of an epidemic in the kingdom, authority to take all measures needed to combat it and prevent its spread,” Mahmoud Kharabsheh, a lawyer and former member of the Jordanian parliament, told The Media Line.
He explained that it was especially important for poor states such as Jordan to impose strict precautionary measures, as these countries would be unable to deal with a widespread outbreak.
“China, the US and other powerful nations have been enormously affected by this virus, never mind Jordan,” he continued. “The policy here is clear: a policy of isolation, aiming to minimize the number of infected cases, as the cost of a COVID-19 test is about $100 and we have about 10 million citizens.”
Speaking prior to activation of the Defense Law, Kharabsheh said its implementation would “increase the financial burden on the government, as it would have to compensate each citizen affected by the situation. For their own safety, citizens must carefully adhere to the instructions.”
He added that government measures had been slow in coming as the epidemic only recently arrived in Jordan, and therefore it was not taken seriously.
“However now, after we all realize what we are dealing with, the government made a series of urgent decisions that rise to the required level of how to deal with this virus,” he said.
Two members of the royal family, princes Hussein and Muhammad, sons of King Abdullah’s first cousin, were placed in quarantine at the Dead Sea on Monday.
“The measures are strict and include all Jordanians,” Kharabsheh said.
On Monday, 4,100 passengers on 60 flights arrived at Amman’s airport. They were put in quarantine in hotels in Amman and at the Dead Sea. The health minister declared the Dead Sea hotels a “military zone,” a measure taken for the first time in decades.
Citizens at the quarantine hotels expressed various levels of anger, frustration and even humiliation, wanting to be home with family. Others expressed appreciation.
Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz decided on Tuesday to suspend activity at the Amman Stock Exchange until further notice, approving the recommendation of the Jordan Securities Commission’s Board of Commissioners. The move aims to protect Jordanian companies from the fall in global financial markets caused by the spread of COVID-19.
Oraib al-Rintawi, founder and director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies, told The Media Line that the Jordanian government’s performance in dealing with the crisis was efficient despite the delay in imposing necessary measures.
“It would be better to have it said that we rushed rather than that we were late,” he said.
Rintawi added that the government’s handling of the massive number of arrivals at Amman’s airport on Monday night was efficient, as the efforts of several ministries had come under the supervision of the armed forces, which are playing a major role in leading crisis management.
“What took place reflects the proper management of limited resources in the face of a limitless scourge, and those who tried to escape quarantine behaved immorally,” he said.
“Thoughtless citizens who think they are above the law and the people instead of being part of the fight against coronavirus… only increase the burden on the government,” he continued.
Sarah al-Nsour, an Amman-based pharmacist and medical supplier, told The Media Line that quarantine was of primary importance, especially in light of what has happened in Italy and Spain, where people disregarded instructions and the infection rapidly spread.
“Quarantine is for our own good and safety, given that our government is doing the best it can with very limited resources,” she said.
Nsour added that the financial burden on the government was huge, especially as thousands of people had been placed in quarantine at hotels.
“This is all for the citizens’ safety, in particular for old people. Therefore, there is no reason to turn against the government and challenge its measures. Instead, be part of them,” she urged.
The government has prepared quarantine camps near border crossings for Jordanians arriving from abroad. In addition, a website has been launched to explain the measures taken to stem the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, Jordanian citizens abroad were instructed to remain in place and observe safety measures implemented by their host countries.