Jordan fears third wave and Omicron spread will batter fragile recovery

Official data shows infections rising sharply

Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron

Normally busy streets in Amman were quiet on Monday as a third coronavirus wave intensified and authorities signalled that the Omicron strain cannot be kept out of the country.

“Monday is usually a slow day but it was slower than usual,” said Imad, owner of a coffee shop in the upscale district of Abdoun in West Amman.

“People are talking about Omicron. They seem to have become more hesitant to go out.”

Jordan is in a sharp economic slowdown with unemployment officially at a record high of around 25 per cent.

The government expects the economy to grow by 2 per cent by the end of this year, as much as it officially retreated in 2020.

The authorities have insisted that there will be no return to lockdowns and other virus restrictions they blame for damaging the economy.

But the country’s top infectious diseases official has indicated that they might be necessary.

“The next few weeks will be decisive,” Adel Al Belbeisi said. “We have seen the lockdowns in Europe. We do not want to reach that stage.”

Mr Al Belbeisi told official radio on Monday that confirmed infections rose to 27,200 last week.

The figure represents a 35 per cent jump on the week before, and 80 per cent more than at the end of last month.

Although coronavirus bed occupancy is still at one-third of capacity, he said Jordan “cannot afford” for admissions to rise to 70-80 per cent of capacity.

The Health Ministry says 11,500 people died from the coronavirus in Jordan. The country's population is 10 million.

At a drive-in PCR testing centre near the Fifth Circle in Amman, there was a line of cars waiting their turn.

“More people are coming in to get tested. They are afraid of the new strain,” one nurse said.

Jordanian authorities announced ten days ago that the country had entered a third wave of the coronavirus, with positive PCR tests doubling to 10 per cent.

The second wave occurred in the first three months of this year.

But Finance Minister Mohamad Al Ississ told reporters in Amman on Sunday that the government is “not thinking of imposing lockdowns, ether total or partial”.

“The cost of adopting health measures in response to the coronavirus is much less than the cost of lockdowns,” he said, referring to social distancing and vaccinations.

The authorities lifted most coronavirus restrictions in June, citing damage to the economy. The decision contributed to the resumption of budget airline flights to the kingdom, and a reported pickup in tourism.

But the authorities banned at the weekend entry to Jordan from South Africa and six other African counties, citing the new Omicron strain. It was first detected in South Africa.

Bassam Hijjawi, a member of Jordan’s National Pandemic Committee, said on Monday that the government has “early detection measures” in place.

“Omicron is more infectious, but it has not yet been proven that it is a more dangerous strain,” Mr Hijjawi said.

Updated: November 29th 2021, 2:09 PM