Surge in Covid cases pushes Jordan’s health system into ‘danger zone’

Under a new emergency law effective from Thursday, those who violate coronavirus rules could be fined JD3,000 with jail time of up to a year

A woman reacts as a swab sample is taken from her nose for COVID-19 coronavirus disease in a suburb of the Jordanian capital Amman, after a hike in the number of infections, on September 4, 2020.   / AFP / Khalil MAZRAAWI
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Jordanian authorities quarantined multiple villages and refugee camps on Thursday as officials warned that a surge in Covid-19 cases risks pushing the kingdom’s health system near the brink of collapse.

In the wake of a coronavirus rise that saw Jordan register a record 1,776 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, authorities sealed off areas home to large outbreaks, including the Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp near Amman, a quarter of the northern city of Zarqa, and the village of Qasr near Karak in the south, for seven-day quarantines.

An additional 1276 cases were recorded on Thursday.

Outgoing prime minister Omar Razzaz and health officials warned on Thursday that the kingdom may be forced to impose more closures or a full lockdown should the number of cases continue to surge.

Jordan recorded eight deaths between late Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, pushing its Covid death toll to 69, the majority of which, 40, were recorded over the past two weeks.

In multiple interviews on local radio and television, Jordan government spokesman and minister of media Amjad Adaileh warned the coronavirus situation in the country had reached a “very dangerous” level.

Should Jordan pass 3,000 coronavirus patients requiring hospitalisation, Mr Adaileh warned that the country will enter the “danger zone” and face a potential collapse of its health system.

Even with the recent addition of a 300-bed emergency field hospital in the Dead Sea, Jordan’s health system has just 16,000 hospital beds, roughly 1.5 hospital beds per 1,000 residents – below the global average of 22.

The total includes 2,500 ICU beds for the 10 million-plus population.

Official health sources say the current testing regime can handle a maximum of around 15,000 to 16,000 tests per day but, with new daily cases over 1,000, the country requires 30,000-50,000 tests per day.

A once-extensive and rapid contact tracing system is now struggling to track down available tests for those who have mixed with confirmed Covid-19 patients.

Health sources also warn of a shortage of cardiologists in government hospitals and an uneven distribution of respirators among the country’s hospitals, potentially complicating treatment for sudden severe cases.

Meanwhile, medical labs in Amman on Thursday witnessed long queues of dozens, and in some cases, hundreds of citizens waiting to take a Covid test.

Health staff say they believe the sudden demand is due to increased mixing with known cases such as relatives and co-workers, as well as a government decision ending enforced isolation at hotels and allowing citizens to self-isolate at home instead.

Yet the government also continues to struggle to strike a balance to keep the floundering economy afloat.

Even as cases and deaths surged to record highs, authorities reopened on Thursday restaurants, cafes, mosques and churches after a two-week closure under new regulations.

As part of the enhanced guidelines, staff at restaurants, mosques and churches are required to sign legal guarantees holding them personally liable for enforcing health regulations. Restaurants must now leave a two-metre distance between tables and maintain below 50 per cent capacity.

Plain clothes monitors will be dispatched to mosques to ensure health guidelines are abided by, the Awqaf Ministry, which oversees Islamic affairs, announced.

An additional emergency law came into effect on Thursday raising fines for those who violate Covid-19 regulations to JD3,000 with jail time of up to a year.

Meanwhile, citizens and travellers arriving at Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport complain of excessive waiting times, confusion and “chaos” as they line up for on-site Covid-19 test results and transportation, forcing travellers to wait up to eight hours before they can enter the country.

“They are holding people, families and young children in gates and rooms without access to bathrooms, water or other necessities,” says Abu Omar, 56, whose teenage son spent nine hours waiting to enter the country last week after arriving on a flight from Istanbul. “It’s chaos.”