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Covid tears through Jordan on eve of parliamentary elections

After managing to keep a lid on coronavirus for months, the kingdom's healthcare system is overwhelmed and a senior official is being treated in Jerusalem
A man walks past a poster of one of the candidates ahead of parliamentary elections on 10 November, amid a second wave of the coronavirus (Reuters)
By Mohammad Ersan in Amman

Once a rare example of a country that had successfully brought coronavirus to heel, Jordan is now being overwhelmed by the pandemic just as its citizens are set to go to the polls.

Since early October, Covid-19 cases have been rocketing, a far cry from the crisis’ early months when the kingdom kept the infection rate close to zero and new cases were largely the cause of incoming international travellers.

By late Friday, Jordan’s health ministry recorded a total of 101,248 infections as well as 1,136 deaths. Currently 1,786 people are hospitalised, 382 of which are in intensive care.

Within a single week, Jordan has lost nine doctors to the pandemic, among them an expert on chest infections. This has caused panic among Jordanians and fear that the healthcare system might collapse.

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Photos distributed on social media show people sleeping in hospital corridors due to the lack of beds.

Dr Ahmad al-Shunaq, who is also the secretary-general of the National Constitutional Party, has called on the government to be transparent and honest about the state of Covid-19 in the kingdom

“I call for a media committee to expose the reality of oxygen tanks and the fact that ICUs are missing ventilators as well as experts,” he told Middle East Eye.

“Our medical sector is imploding. The loss of these doctors has meant that we lost our first line of defence. What we need now is total honesty about the situation.”

Shunaq also criticized the government's insistence on holding parliamentary elections on 10 November, despite the spread of the virus.

'I think that voting should be postponed for a month so that we can break this coronavirus chain of events'

- Dr Ahmad al-Shunaq

“Election day will be a hard day, we don’t want a Jordanian Karbala,” he said, referencing the 7th century battle that slaughtered thousands.

“I think that voting should be postponed for a month so that we can break this coronavirus chain of events. Since when has the parliament decided the policies of our country?

"Our number one goal is to save the lives of people in hospitals that are unable to take care of them. There aren’t enough doctors and staff to break this cycle.”

Jordan’s outgoing government has insisted it is safe to hold the polls next week.

The Minister of Political Development Musa Maaytah said in a news conference: “The danger is not from holding the event on election day because of health protective measures. The real danger is in the celebratory events that will take place after elections, and that is why we will put strong measures against such large gatherings.”

Official treated in Israel

Senior doctor Adel al-Wahadneh, head of the Jordanian Medical Services, is one of the kingdom’s senior medical staff to have contracted the virus. But rather than be treated by the healthcare system he presides over, it has been widely reported that the official was flown in critical condition to the Israeli Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Former MP Ibrahim al-Bdour, head of the health committee at the National Center for Human Rights, told MEE he was “saddened” that a senior official had been transferred to Hadassah.

'Our mistake was that we didn’t train our medical staff enough on how to operate the ventilators. We are now in the eye of the storm as the numbers of infected is rising'

- Ibrahim al-Bdour, former MP

“This act has shaken confidence in the medical sector. Jordan is a leader where Arabs come for treatment. Why don’t we have the lung machines [ventilators]? 

"Many people around our party were very upset about this decision. Why did we reach this situation, many asked?” he said.

“We took good decisions in the beginning in Jordan, and this allowed us to make sure that the virus will not spread socially. We couldn’t keep the borders closed forever,” he added.

“Our mistake was that we didn’t train our medical staff enough on how to operate the ventilators. We are now in the eye of the storm as the numbers of infected is rising.”

People, some wearing protective masks, walk in downtown Amman, amid fears over rising numbers of the coronavirus disease (Reuters)
People walk in downtown Amman amid fears over rising numbers of the coronavirus disease (Reuters)

According to Bdour, Jordan failed to prepare for a second wave.

“We are very worried about the increase in hospitalisations and its effects on our medical system, which is now being tested. We need beds, and ventilators, and clever hands. We only have 70 specialists in chest diseases in Jordan and out of them 10 are infected. We have no specialists in intensive care units.”

Jordan’s coronavirus czar Dr Wael al-Hayajneh told MEE that the government has updated its protocols for the treatment and protection of medical personnel, and is doing all it can to get on top of the crisis.

“We have acquired the services of medical staff to work in government hospitals and in the field,” he said.

“We will set up three field hospitals covering the north, centre and south. This happened after it became clear that our positive results have risen by 16 percent for the daily tests.”

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