Jordan tightens coronavirus response after surge in new cases

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Jordan announced stricter measures to enforce social distancing and the use of face masks after coronavirus cases in the kingdom surged for a fourth straight day on Thursday.

The government said that from August 15 there will be increased police presence and monitoring in public areas, towns and neighbourhoods to prevent large gatherings, enforce social distancing and mask-wearing in public areas.

People who do not wear a face mask or observe social distancing will be fined between 20 and 50 Jordanian dinar (Dh104-129); establishments found in violation will be fined JD100-200 for each infraction and face closure.

“We have seen the results, very few have been abiding” by the health measures," Health Minister Saad Al Jaber said in a press conference on Thursday.

The government directive, named Defence Order 11, focuses mainly on enforcing social distancing as the kingdom sees a rise in large celebrations such as weddings, engagements and graduations in the summer. Despite pandemic fears, Jordanians have been holding funeral gatherings and weddings in homes, at private farms, and even car parks.

The Public Security Department said it would increase patrols in public areas and increasing electronic surveillance of the streets.

“This year there will be increased monitoring in neighbourhoods and streets in the country…to prevent dangerous behaviours by citizens in areas across the kingdom,” Public Security Department commander Rami Dabbas said at the press conference.

He released phone numbers for citizens to report gatherings of more than 20 people, saying: “We urge citizens to co-ordinate with us as partners and report violations.”

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Coronavirus in the Middle East

A teacher helping a pupil during class at the Modern English School in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. EPA

Palestinian children listen to their teacher during a a lesson at the Modern English School in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. EPA

Women wearing face masks check their phone as they walk with the Hagia Sophia Mosque seen in the background, in Istanbul, Turkey. EPA

Women fly kites with their children, in Istanbul, Turkey. EPA

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah and Kuwaiti Finance Minister Barrak Al Shaitan during a parliament session at Kuwait's national assembly. AFP

A girl hugs her sister as she cries before they leave the Palestinian Rafah border crossing with Egypt. Reuters

An Iraqi volunteer in a protective suit takes care of a patient infected with coronavirus, as he provides him with oxygen at home in Najaf. Reuters

Iraqi volunteers transport an oxygen cylinder to a patient's home in the city of Najaf. Reuters

A woman wearing a face mask casts her vote inside a school used as a polling station during the second day of Egypt's senate elections in Cairo. Reuters

A voter walks through a sanitising gate to enter a polling station during second day of the Egyptian senate election in Cairo. EPA

Moroccan soldiers patrol the city of Tangiers. AFP

Algerian women walk past the La Grande Poste (main post office) building in the centre of the capital Algiers. AFP

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The enforcement of Defence Order 11, which was issued by the government under its emergency powers in late July, comes amid a surge of cases in the kingdom, which faces its largest outbreak of the virus since May.

The current wave of infections come from people entering Jordan through the Jaber border from Syria, as well as lorry drivers entering from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

This has led to outbreaks in Ramtha, Irbid, Mafraq and the capital Amman, and new cases rising by 10-15 a day since Sunday compared with between one and five a week previously.

Health officials say Jordan will revise its guidelines and curfew hours should the country see 10-20 new cases daily for seven consecutive days.

The government is treating the stricter enforcement as a “test” to see if the spike in virus cases can be controlled without resorting to a partial lockdown.

“The infections recorded the past few days is worrying, but the situation remains under control and all our cadres and epidemiological investigation teams are working around the clock to track cases and those who came in contact,” Amjad Adaileh, the government spokesman and minister for media affairs, told the press conference.

He said “no decision has been made” so far to return to a partial lockdown.

The government on Thursday closed the Jordan-Syrian border crossing for one week to reassess Covid-19 prevention procedures.

Cross-border transport has been the major source of Covid-19 cases in Jordan, which reduced its local infections to zero after imposing a lockdown and closing its borders and airports to passenger travel in March.

The kingdom has set up camps for lorry drivers entering Jordan to undergo quarantine for 14 days, prompting protests from the drivers and questions from citizens about the effectiveness of procedures.

On Wednesday, Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz ordered improved preventive measures at the Karama border crossing with Iraq and Omari crossing from Saudi Arabia.

Mr Al Jaber, the health minister, said that under WHO and international guidelines, Jordan cannot be declared a virus-free green zone country “because we are surrounded by red-zone countries, we remain at risk”.

Updated: August 13, 2020 08:29 PM

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