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Written by Ola Dababneh and translated by Ghassan Makarem

Saturday, July 19, 2020, 10:00 AM

Phone ringing

"Hello. Hi Ola! It's Dr. Mohammed from the Epidemiological Investigation Unit."

"Hello, Doctor."

"I am calling to inform you that you have been tested positive for COVID-19.”

The phone call came to an abrupt silence.

"Please be calm and tell me what you did and all the places you went to in the past days."

I was swamped with interrogative questions keeping track of my recent whereabouts and the people I had met recently. Clueless of what awaits, I answered with hesitation as a plethora of scenarios ran in my head.

"They will call to inform you of upcoming procedures. As for now, I will be following up on your health status." Dr. Mohammed elaborated before ending the phone call.

The call ended.

I did not understand who he meant by "they", but I was sure that “they”were devoted to carrying out measures used against those threatening the security of citizens, and that my health situation was not a priority.

I realized I was totally under surveillance. At this point, I was a mere number in the pile of files of COVID-19 cases. I was just another infected patient among thousands. I then started receiving multiple phone calls from people I have never heard of, however they knew me well. They even knew the name of the store I went to yesterday to buy a bottle of water. It was scorching. Little did I know that thirst and hot weather, being the biggest burden at that time would turn into an insignificant inconvenience. The last place I would imagine myself spending my vacation at was a military point.However, it was where I found myself lying to my four-year-old daughter, trying my best to assure her that everything is fine. There was nothing to worry about even when the electricity went off for hours in the suffocating and infected atmosphere of Caravan 109 at the lowest point on Earth. It was when she fell asleep that I was allowed to let out a long overdue emotional breakdown in silence.

Since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year, the Jordanian government has been cracking down,remarkably controlling the spread of the virus for several months. By imposing the orders of the Defense Law, a full lock-down was announced for weeks while allowing some movement under strict conditions.

Government decisions included the closure of educational institutions and border crossings as well as the suspension of flights. Most government agencies and departments were also closed, in exception to vital sectors identified by the Prime Minister. Violating the Defense Law orders meant paying fines and sentences that could lead to imprisonment, the seizure of vehicles, and termination of shops and hotels.

Overtime, infections declined in Jordan. Life started going back to normal gradually until the virus turned tables and became humanity's primary concern. Several new orders were issued to control movement and transportation, limit gatherings, and encourage citizens to abide by measures meant to protect them from infection and limit the spread.

The government resorted to stringent and harsh measures for the fact that Jordan’s health care system is incapable to handle the increasing numbers of patients. In particular, insufficient resources have been allocated to the development of health infrastructure, the constraints shall include, but are not limited to, having 116 hospitals in the whole country, at a rate of 1bed per 700 citizens and 20 doctors per 10,000 citizens.1 Infected patients would significantly increase the burden in addressing the newly emerging pandemic, which will out pace the system’s ability to respond to the accelerating crisis.

After all, just as tension and nervousness had driven people to follow the rigorous instructions, so too economic hardship and losing jobs were behind their demand to expedite the process of resuming normality in the country. Strict measures led to vast losses and continue to do so, leaving citizens to carry the load. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that only 10.7% of workforce are paid more than JD500(US$750)2 per month, and 15.7% of the population is below the poverty line. Unemployment is at 16.5% for males and 26.8% for females.

Government measures in response to the crisis had a devastating impact on economically vulnerable groups. Women make up most of the workers in the informal sector, which is directly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The manufacturing and services sectors, where women are concentrated, also registered significant losses. Thus, women are more likely to lose their jobs. In the informal sector, women account for 56.8% of individual enterprises run from home.3 Moreover, around a quarter of working women are in low-paying elementary occupations that cannot be performed remotely. They risk losing their only income, which supports 14% of families in Jordan.4

The impact of Covid-19 measures on refugees is multiplied. Around 86% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line.5 Syrian workers face increased difficulties, as 17% lost their jobs permanently, and 70% work in precarious jobs and have already lost around 40% of their income due to the pandemic. Health risks are also on the rise, since 85% are not covered by health insurance.6

Seven months on, all government responses to the pandemic lost their efficiency, and cases rose to more than one thousand per day. Is the rationale behind the current measures still relevant after the spread of the virus? Who will pay for citizens' material losses caused by the closures and total lockdown, which continues today? How can crowded metal rooms be the most appropriate place to gather patients in far from dignified conditions? How could a quarantine at certain hours and specific days reduce the spread of the virus?

The pandemic will eventually come to an end. We will forget the number of cases, the defense orders, and emergency sirens. However, the relationship between citizens and the state will continue to suffer from a mutual trust crisis in the foreseeable future.

Public health

By way of introduction, Ola Dababneh is a professional who combines a strong theoretical foundation from the academic world with the high commitment to promote women and girls’ rights and gender equality; drive the change in creating just and equal societies and intuitions; and foster the principles of inclusion and diversity. Dababneh's practical knowledge as a gender researcher and project coordinator, with expertise in socio-political, economic and theoretical challenges in regards to public policy-making, sustainable development, youth empowerment, and human development; effectively utilize the knowledge and skills acquired during my academic study MSc in Women’s Studies.

Ola Dababneh is currently a researcher and project coordinator in women's rights and gender equality. She also believes that volunteering as a development approach has a distinct advantage in its ability to build equitable relationship with those often left behind, therefore she is an active community member to give support and information related to several circumstances, including women in postpartum; protecting children and preventing child sexual harassment; as well as people with visual disabilities and impairments.

1دائرة الاحصاءات العامة الاردنية (٢٠١٩)، الأردن بالأرقام ٢٠١٨، مؤشرات الصحة

2دائرة الاحصاءات العامة، مسح العمالة والبطالة ٢٠١٩ الجولة الرابعة، التوزيع النسبي للمشتغلين/ات ممن أعمارهم ١٥ سنه فأكثر حسب فئات الدخل الشهري من العمل (بالدينار) والجنس وفئات العمر الرئيسية والجنسية.

3مركز القدس للدراسات السياسية (٢٠١٩) ورقة سياسات: حالة الاقتصاد غير الرسمي في الأردن فرص الاندماج وتحدياته

4دائرة الاحصاءات العامة (٢٠١٩) مسح السكان والصحة الأسرية ٢٠١٧-٢٠١٨

5UNICEF (2017) Situation Analysis of Children in Jordan

6International Labour Organization and Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research (2020) IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON WORKERS IN JORDAN A RAPID ASSESSMENT