A countrywide round-the-clock curfew has come into effect in Jordan as the country doubles down on efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, barring people from moving except for in emergencies, the government said.
Sirens in the early hours of Saturday marked the beginning of the curfew, the exact duration of which was left unspecified during the official announcement by government spokesman Amjad Adaileh in a televised address a day earlier.
Adaileh said the nationwide curfew followed the declaration of a state of emergency earlier this week, giving the government sweeping powers to enforce an army-imposed curfew and other measures.
As part of the emergency measures, Jordan’s army sealed off the capital Amman from the rest of the country and banned travel between provinces to put its 10 million people on lockdown.
It has already closed land and sea borders with Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and Israel, and suspended all incoming and outgoing flights since Tuesday.
The country has 84 confirmed coronavirus cases, with no deaths so far. Health Minister Saad Jaber said one man recovered from the virus and left hospital, as authorities feared the pandemic could spread fast.
The government said there were nearly 5,000 people under quarantine in hotels in Amman and the Dead Sea area.
Adaileh said the decision to impose a curfew, to be applied for an indefinite period, was taken after “people did not respect directives”, and he warned that lack of compliance may result in “immediate imprisonment for not more than a year”.
“In view of the exceptional circumstances in the world and in our region and to avoid epidemics, a curfew will come into force from Saturday at 7am,” he said.
All shops will be closed and authorities will announce on Tuesday the “specific times according to specific procedures” for people to get supplies, he added.
“Unfortunately, in the past two days, people did not respect directives and have been out in the streets and markets. This poses a great danger to their health and safety.”
As soon as the announcement was made, thousands of people flocked to the local markets to buy food and other essential items, causing massive traffic jams across the country, TV stations reported.
Jaber said the curfew is meant “to break the cycle of the coronavirus spread”.
Adaileh told Al Jazeera the measures are “efforts meant to keep people indoors” as a safety precaution and “to spare the country a widespread infection”.
Adaileh said the Jordanian government is prepared to deal with a coronavirus outbreak in the country.
On Tuesday, the country’s King Abdullah issued a royal decree approving a national defence law that gave Prime Minister Omar Razzaz sweeping powers to impose a state of emergency and suspend civil laws in order to deal with the medical emergency.
King Abdullah has also been chairing meetings of the National Center For Security and Crisis Management, the country’s main emergency response agency.
Dr Nathir Obeidat, spokesman for the National Committee of Epidemiology – the government’s task force dealing with the coronavirus outbreak – told Al Jazeera that the government is prepared for all eventualities.
Obeidat said the current cases in Jordan have not reached a threshold of a national epidemic emergency.
“But we already have plans to deal with possible emerging scenarios of the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.
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