How the Hashemite Kingdom is winning the battle against COVID-19
Air raid sirens startled me out of bed, as they’ve done so every day for the past two weeks in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a reminder that I was still over 5,500 miles away from my home of small town New England. For the past several decades, these alarms have typically been a warning cry of incoming airstrikes or invasions that have tormented many other countries in the Middle-East. Now, these eerie signals represent the Jordanian government’s successful push against an invisible enemy.
Jordan was at risk to become a hotspot for COVID-19. The disease has rushed through surrounding states such as Iran, Israel-Palestine, and Saudi Arabia. Jordanian culture is very sociable. Cafes are typically packed and grown men walk down the streets with their arms wrapped around each other. The country’s national dish, Mansef, is a community event and strictly eaten with hands. Jordan’s population includes many chronic smokers, a bad habit that coronavirus loves to feed off.
As the situation worsened, more restrictions were put in place by the government. I knew it was serious when cafés stopped serving shisha, hookahs filled with tobacco that leaves you cross-eyed with a head buzz. In Jordan, shisha is a national pastime, and its termination essentially meant the end of life as we knew it. Then came the closing of borders and airports. The other students in my study abroad program scrambled to book tickets out of the country. One even paid around $6000 for a one-way seat. All they were going to find back in the United States was more coronavirus and credit-card debt. Unsatisfied with not being able to see the wonders of Petra and not ready to leave the amazing people of Jordan, I elected to stay.
Then came the lockdown. His Majesty King Abdullah II enacted Defense Law №13, granting Prime Minister Omar Razzaz extended powers to look after the country. Despite having a handful of cases, Jordan enacted some of the world’s strictest measures to combat the spread of the contagion, halting travel between and within cities, closing down religious sites, as well as all stores in the Kingdom. The government promised violators of the lockdown up to a year in prison. Those returning to Jordan from abroad before the border shutdown were subjected to a mandatory two-week quarantine in the vacant luxury hotels across the country.
My host family rushed into my room the morning of the announcement and even with my broken Arabic, I could tell that something was wrong. They were leaving to stay with family outside the city and asked for my key to the house.
Pushed to the street during a global pandemic and national lockdown, I walked around Amman with everything I owned on my back. Military armored vehicles took over the roads. Horns blared, but not the typical beep catcalling a group of women or taxies begging to rip off tourists. These horns were screams of panic. People were running from place to place. It was the first time I’d seen Jordanians break their typical care free stride. Even during pickup soccer matches, they rarely seem to even accelerate into a jog. The grocery stores were crazy, with people running out with as many packs of cigarettes their arms could carry. Snapping back into reality for just a second, I called my friend,
“Hey man, I just got — “ he cut me off mid-sentence.
“You’re going to stay with my family. I’m coming to pick you up.”
The people of this country are amazingly welcoming, even during a global crisis. I ordered another half dinar Turkish coffee and continued to watch the madness unfold.
On March 21, the first air raid sirens echoed across the Kingdom, signaling the initiation of curfew. Within the first day, around 400 people were arrested for leaving their house and endangering public safety.
The initial anxiety is now over and people have settled into life at home. Jordanians are grateful that their government took COVID-19 seriously and acted in foresight of a domestic disaster. As of today, there are 278 people infected with coronavirus in Jordan. My home state of Massachusetts boasts over 7,700 cases alone.
There is plenty the world can learn from this small country located in the heart of the Middle-East. Cooperation is needed from the public. However, this may require some form of coercion from the government. Jordan has always been a beacon of safety in the region and acted to assure that image in the face of a new security threat.
COVID-19 is now retreating, not only because of the state’s response, but how the people have reacted as well. Jordanian generosity has guided me through these uneasy times. Their reputation of hospitality is often contributed to the country’s history as a haven for refugees. The family that welcomed me into their home fled to Amman from Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. We’ve enjoyed amazing meals and the seemingly endless flow of Iraqi Chai has made it easy to forget about the situation outside and to stay at home. Their open arms are an extension of their struggle to find refuge. The strength of these people give me hope that humanity can overcome this global pandemic. The scariest side effect of COVID-19 is that it has the power to dehumanize our peers. These challenging times can also bring out the best of us, as we recognize how crucial community is in the fight against coronavirus.
The trend is now flat in Jordan, and after less than two weeks in lockdown, life is slowly going back to normal. Grocery stores have reopened and people are allowed to venture outside for walks during the daytime. Jordanians are optimistic that this issue will be a faint memory by the festivities of Ramadan in late April.
Case studies such as Jordan must be highlighted during these historic times. COVID-19 can be stopped, but it requires decisive decision making from national leaders and public unity through adherence to imposed restrictions. Drastic situations call for extraordinary measures. There has never been an easier way to be extraordinary than to spend a couple weeks at home with your family.