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Health

Jordan returns to weekend lockdown as COVID-19 cases mount

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan will enter a nationwide 48-hour lockdown on Friday for the first time in months as health officials worry a major spike in coronavirus infections could threaten its stretched healthcare system, officials said.

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks shop in a mall amid fears of a rising number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Amman, Jordan October 7, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

The country has seen what officials say is an “exponential” rise, with around 10,000 cases confirmed in just over a week - a near-doubling of the total number of infections since the first cases in early March and a reversal what had been among the lowest infection and death rates in the Middle East.

Senior officials are struggling to avoid a broader lockdown that the hard-hit economy can ill afford. The IMF forecasts the economy, which was struggling even before the health crisis, will shrink 6% this year, the first contraction since 1990.

“The last thing we want is a complete lockdown for two weeks or three weeks, we don’t want to reach this ..It remains the last weapon if cases rise unbelievably high and lead to our hospitals being overwhelmed,” Health Minister Saad Jaber told state television this week.

The community spread of the virus has forced authorities to maintain the closure of schools for 2 million pupils, after a brief resumption of lessons at the start of last month, and impose strict bans on large public gatherings.

Thousands of troops have been deployed to enforce the lockdown, which begins at midnight.

Daily cases hit a peak of 1,824 last Monday, with total number of infections now standing at 20,200 and 137 deaths.

Officials blamed the initial outbreak in Jordan on infected truck drivers crossing the northern border with Syria. Authorities have tried to control the spread of the virus with partial curfews to isolate neighbourhoods in the capital and outlying towns.

King Abdullah has criticised the government for mistakes in handling the pandemic, and ordered newly appointed Prime Minister Bisher al Khaswaneh on Wednesday to raise hospital capacity in coming weeks and ramp up testing.

The king has also pushed the armed forces to help set up a 2,000-bed field hospital in the Dead Sea region.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alex Richardson

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