To Hear Music in Jordan, You Must Be Vaccinated
Officials in Amman struggle to balance COVID-19 restrictions and the public’s social and cultural needs
Jordanian government officials feel confident that they have succeeded in achieving the proper balance between the needs to protect public health and to transition to a post-COVID normal.
The annual Jerash Festival, held in the amphitheater of the Roman city of Jerash in Jordan, welcomed thousands of spectators to hear the likes of Lebanese megastar Majida El Roumi, and in the southern port city of Aqaba, Egyptian sensation Amr Diab sang to a huge outdoor crowd of fans. In both cases, everyone attending these outdoor events had to show certification that they had been vaccinated.
Nayef Al-Fayez, Jordan’s tourism minister, told The Media Line that Jordan had tried its best to find the right balance. “Jordan has kept a good balance between health concerns and the need to restart the economy and open up for tourism,” Al-Fayez said, noting that all the concerts had been held outdoors and there was strict adherence to COVID-19 restrictions, including the requirement that attendees be vaccinated. In an interview with Jordan TV, Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh echoed these sentiments.
While COVID statistics have generally been stable, this week saw the positivity rate rise slightly to 5%, with over 1,000 new infections per day. Bassam Hijjawi, a Jordanian Health Ministry spokesman, told Radio al Balad that the numbers were still stable. Hijjwai noted that despite this slight uptick, the country has seen much stricter adherence to health regulations and a whopping 32% increase in vaccinations in recent days.
Not everyone agrees that Jordan’s government has maintained the right balance.
Mohammad Ersan, the anchor of a popular radio program on Radio al Balad, told The Media Line that there were contradictions in the way the government had dealt with the pandemic: “They have raised the fines on those traveling by public transportation who are not vaccinated while at the same time they allowed hookah waterpipe smoking in closed cafes.” Ersan also said that the latest defense order, No. 46, limited seating in restaurants to 10 people while allowing thousands to attend a concert in which health protocols were not enforced, despite the government’s claims to the contrary.
“The point is that the government has a double standard: one for the simple taxi driver or owner of a small popular restaurant, and one for big restaurants and resorts that are connected to the tourism industry,” he said.
An observer who asked not to be identified told The Media Line that Jordan was not prepared to carry out what was needed. “The government chose a strategy that requires a huge team to enforce and then acted like it had no idea what was needed to carry out this strategy.”
Deema Alam Farraj, a social media activist, told The Media Line that she was a big supporter of the way the government was beginning to bring back concerts and other large entertainment gatherings as the pandemic wanes. “Essential COVID-19 health and safety protocols have been effectively put into place and, in my opinion, the timing of concerts opening back up struck a balance between prioritizing the health and the social needs of the Jordanian community, both of which were severely compromised during the pandemic.”
But the Jordanian government’s decisions were hotly debated on social media.
Samah Salameh said, “The Amr Diab concert was attended by people from all the governorates. Everyone went to Aqaba and today I am sure the numbers will be low. Amazing how, with all of these concerts and events, the coronavirus stays quiet in the corner.”
Laith Aref wrote on his social media account, “The total number of people attending the Amr Diab concert was 4,000. I don’t say it is right but if you go to some areas in Amman or to weddings, you will see a lot of people not wearing masks. But because this is a media event and people pay money, everyone starts to comment.
Naser Samo opined, “I don’t know what this fuss is about. His songs are old and the health situation can’t bear it.”
Omar Biltaji commented: “Thanks to all those who filmed and broadcasted the Amr Diab concert. They saved us money and a trip to Aqaba and we avoided any chance of getting the disease.”
As of October 19, Jordan had recorded 846,033 COVID-19 cases and 10,903 deaths from the virus.