Dealing with COVID-19 in Amman, Jordan
By now, just about everyone has their own COVID-19 story. What few of us have experienced, however, is a state-ordered lockdown, certain arrest, threatened jail for non-compliance, and inaccessibility to essential services.
Our son, Vaughan Swart, and his wife, Alli Ruttger, are living and working as teachers in Amman, Jordan. The country’s immediate neighbours are Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Israel. Iran is within two hours by plane. At 7 AM Sunday morning, air raid sirens across the country declared the beginning of a three day, militarily-enforced, lockdown of everything.
The airport is closed, as are drug stores, grocery stores, markets, and every school. The only means of getting to hospital is via emergency vehicle. Jordanians are not allowed on the streets for any reason. Walking their two dogs, or merely taking them outside their apartment, could land Vaughan and Alli in prison.
During a Skype conversation this morning, Vaughan shared that within hours of lockdown being declared, a co-worker was stopped while driving, removed from his car, and thrown into a police van for transport to jail. He did not know if it had been wilful disregard for the law or lack of understanding, but the result was the same.
Official communications are in Arabic, which many foreign workers, and much of the country, cannot speak or understand. Jordan has a population of approximately 9,500,000, of which some 4,200,000 are Palestinian and Syrian refugees, and 350,000 are migrant workers. Vaughan and Alli get their local news, and notifications of policy and appropriate actions that they must take, from the Canadian Consulate via email only once every 48 hours. Their most current news source is the internet, or what they learn from Arabic-speaking friends.
At the time of our call, Jordan was reporting only one case of COVID-19, and no deaths. Vaughan speculated that Jordan had no choice but to act quickly.
“The number is probably false. The lockdown’s precautionary. Jordan does not have the medical infrastructure to cope with this. And they probably have little in the way of supplies.”
Jordan is a constitutional, hereditary monarchy with a parliamentary form of government, and Islam is the official religion. The king wields ultimate authority over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, and appoints the Prime Minister and cabinet.
Decisions can be made quickly, and although Jordan is a modern, liberal state by Mideast standards, dissension is not tolerated in time of national emergency.
“A lot of people here are in favour of what’s happening,” Alli said. “Jordan has been able to be a peaceful, safe and somewhat prosperous place to live because of government involvement. Government keeps the state and people together, and there is a certain level of trust and acceptance for these steps and measures because they understand what needs to happen.”
Alli said that society is diverse with a lot of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
“Half the people here are refugees, so people are not always going to be on the same page. Many are uninformed of what’s going on or what they should do.”
Alli says the government has to make things happen immediately if the population is to stay safe. There’s no requesting, only ordering.
“The government has to threaten punishment, which is the way it is.” She said 400 were arrested in the first day.
Our 24/7 North American media coverage can lead us to forget that there are countries beyond Canada, the United States, and Italy dealing with COVID-19. Understanding the situation in other nations reminds us how fortunate we are to have choice —yet also how important it is that we exercise our freedom while bearing in mind the welfare of us all.