What lies ahead as Jordan faces the fallout of COVID-19

On June 28, Jordan’s Health Minister, Dr. Saad Jaber, boldly declared that the coronavirus had “dried up and died in Jordan.” Dr. Jaber backtracked days later by renewing calls to adhere to necessary safety measures. Amid fears of a second wave, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan continues to stand out among its neighbors, as it exhibits an impressively low rate of infections. Jordan—made up of nearly 10 million people—recorded just over one thousand COVID-19 cases and nine deaths since reports surfaced back in early March.

What makes Amman’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic unique lies less in the specific measures imposed, but more so in the swift and aggressive fashion by which they were carried out. Data compiled by Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government rendered the level of severity in Jordan’s governmental response to the pandemic, or its “stringency index,” increased from 80 percent to 100 percent during mid-to-late March. In comparison, scores for bordering Iraq and Lebanon floated around 80 percent.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II spared no time in reacting to and preventing the rapid spread of the virus, a devastation that would have overwhelmed the country’s health services. On March 17, with slightly over thirty confirmed cases, King Abdullah issued a royal decree that activated the Kingdom’s 1992 Defense Law. Article 2 of the law grants sweeping powers to the prime minister during exceptional circumstances “that would threaten the national security or public safety in all parts of the Kingdom.” To address concerns over abuse of power, Jordan’s Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz assured the Jordanian public that the law would be implemented in the “narrowest extent” possible as he enforced a state of emergency.

On the ground, strict lockdown measures translated to daily street patrols, mandatory curfews, and the forced shuttering of businesses and restaurants across Jordan. By March 19, the Jordanian Armed Forces sealed the capital city of Amman—comprised of over four million residents—and prohibited movement between governorates. Soon after, international travel was suspended, returning Jordanians from abroad were quarantined, schools and universities were closed, and public worship at mosques was banned. The government went so far as to offer citizens doorstep delivery of essential goods and sent truckloads of subsidized bread to distribute throughout different Amman municipalities.

At the beginning of May, Iraq and Lebanon registered over two thousand and seven hundred confirmed cases, respectively, with over one hundred combined deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In contrast, the Kingdom witnessed five hundred cases and eight deaths. Keeping early evening curfews in place, the government slowly eased restrictions in specific governorates across the country. By June 6, the majority of businesses reopened alongside restaurants and mosques, signaling a major step toward Jordan’s return to normalcy.

Public trust in the government is positive, for now

Despite the disruptions to Jordanian life, the pandemic has presented an unlikely opportunity for the government to prove itself in re-capturing public trust. In the eyes of Jordanians, the government’s approach has generally been perceived positively. A survey conducted by the University of Jordan’s Strategic Studies Centre on June 24 showed that 92 percent of Jordanians considered the government to have been successful in controlling the pandemic. However, it remains to be seen how the response to the pandemic will improve or sour the relationship between the government and its citizens in the long run. For now, Jordan appears to have “salvaged some of its image with the quality of its response,” according to Abul-Wahab Kayyali, a research associate at Arab Barometer…

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