Jordan closes schools in new curbs after spike in COVID-19

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan will suspend schools for two weeks from Thursday and close places of worship, restaurants and public markets as part of renewed restrictions after a record spike in coronavirus cases in the last few days.

Empty desks are pictured in a deserted class in one of the schools, amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amman, Jordan March 23, 2020. Picture taken March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

The decision taken after a cabinet meeting came as the kingdom struggles to prevent the uncontrolled spread of the pandemic, government spokesman Amjad Adailah said.

“We are living through exceptional circumstances,” Adailah said.

Health Minister Saad Jaber said the government was seeking to avoid the kind of tight nationwide lockdown imposed in the spring that brought the virus under control with low daily case numbers among a population of 10 million.

“These measures are harsh as they are, but we hope they will reduce infections and prevent a large outbreak that would lead to a total shutdown that would have catastrophic consequences,” Jaber said in televised remarks.

But restrictions were lifted in June and 2 million students went back to schools and international flights resumed this month, and infections have jumped since Friday to a new peak of more than 200 a day.

The government reported 252 new cases on Sunday in its highest daily tally since the virus surfaced in early March.

The country has now recorded 3,528 cases of infection and just 25 deaths.

Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz said he hoped the country could avoid a total lockdown that the fragile, aid-dependent economy could ill afford. The economy is now expected to shrink around 5% this year, which would be the biggest contraction since 1990.

Officials blame large social gatherings and weddings, which are now banned, for the fast transmission of the virus and have enforced 14-day prison term for violators of the ban. Over 4,000 shops have been closed for breaching health rules on wearing face masks.

“The irresponsible behavior of some by having condolences gatherings and weddings has affected everyone,” Jaber said.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Hugh Lawson