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Jordan: the toughest lockdown in the world

Jordan is considered an anchor of stability in the Middle East, but in the wake of the corona crisis the country is making particular headlines. For it is under "the toughest lockdown in the world". Christian Schaub, head of the KfW office in Amman, reports on this.

Right after the first cases became known in mid-March, the Jordanian government reacted in an extremely short time and imposed drastic measures. Schools, kindergartens and universities were closed, all flights suspended and all national borders sealed off. Public and private institutions were closed and on 20 March the authorities imposed a nationwide curfew, which was enforced most rigorously. At the beginning, people were not allowed to leave their homes at all for several days if they did not want to be arrested: almost 400 people were apprehended on the first day alone because they were caught on the street - up to a year's imprisonment was to be expected. Everything was closed, even pharmacies and supermarkets - harder than in Italy. Meanwhile, grocery stores can reopen between ten and eighteen o'clock, but everyone is only allowed to buy the essentials in the immediate vicinity of their homes. Several hundred cars were confiscated every day, not to mention the people who were taken into police custody. And people were glad to be back home in time before the sirens were wailing all over the country at six in the evening. Even now, complete curfews are imposed again and again, where you are not allowed to go outside at all.

After six weeks of a state of emergency, the Jordanians were faced with a particularly big challenge at the beginning of Ramadan, the month of fasting, on April 24. Not only the traditional visits to mosques and the breaking of fasting in the evening with the large circle of family and friends have to be suspended. The mere everyday life, which is already arduous with people neither eating nor drinking during daytime, is an even harder yoke in corona times.

Empty street and closed shops in Amman
All shops have been closed since mid-March. Only grocery stores are allowed to open a few hours a day.
Effects on the country and the people

Meanwhile, it appears that the drastic measures have been effective in curbing the spread of the virus in Jordan for the time being. According to official statistics there were 461 confirmed infections and nine deaths as of 4th May. Despite the extension of testing, there were no new infections in the interior of the country for the sixth day in a row. However, public life and the economy came to a virtual standstill.

The Syrian refugee crisis had already hit the country hard, with growth rates of only two percent and unemployment of around 19%. According to current forecasts, the Jordanian economy will shrink by 3.4% in 2020, not to mention the additional costs and loss of income caused by the corona crisis. A recently agreed IMF programme should help Jordan, which has a high level of national debt, to get on a sustainable growth path and slow down new borrowing. At least in the short and medium term, this will not be possible now.

In any case, it is to be feared that important state investments will have to be postponed due to cost savings, with substantial consequences for public services. Social security contributions and taxes are currently being deferred in part, and no bills are issued for water and electricity. At the same time, water consumption increased by 40% during the crisis. For the water sector alone, the Jordanian government estimates losses at more than one and a half million euros per day - for the people this is at least a small contribution to coping with the corona burden.

closed shops
The country's economy is most affected by the corona crisis.
Socially weaker people suffer most

This is because everyone is affected, albeit in different ways: refugees, unemployed, women and informal workers, for example, normally have no reserves and find it difficult to support their families.

In German Financial Cooperation projects, too, the curfew means that things are progressing but slowly. Construction work and other measures cannot be carried out, and the partners are not available in all places either. In recent days the first openings have been made, so that life can slowly return to the streets of Jordan.

The team in the KfW office works entirely from home, and regular exchanges via WebEx and video conferencing have become established. Meetings with partner ministries and donors have also shifted to the Internet. One question in particular is at the forefront: How can the donor community best help the country to find a way out of this in the short term? To answer this, KfW will certainly have a substantial contribution to make.

deserted street in Amman
Deserted streets mark the city of Amman and show the effects of a curfew quite unique in the world.