The Jordanians celebrated Ramadan in solidarity this year, unlike the previous two years when COVID-19 lockdown measures limited family gatherings and banned big iftar feasts. This came as a relief to a population that endured a strict country-wide curfew and closure of all businesses at the outset of the pandemic. Although the lockdown restrictions may have contributed to the low number of COVID-19 cases in Jordan initially, these measures resulted in economic stresses and increased psychological distress in the general population.
To salvage the economic loss, the Jordanian government gradually eased up on COVID-19 restrictions and subsequently faced multiple pandemic waves since late 2020. Our study, conducted between February and May 2021, identified challenges faced by the Jordanians during the COVID-19 crisis as well as the country's innovative and equitable response to mitigate these challenges.
At the onset of the pandemic, government hospitals in Jordan were exclusively responsible for treating COVID-19 patients. Local health care providers noted that Jordanian public hospitals were already operating at capacity pre-pandemic. Lack of medical supplies and equipment such as beds and ventilators in public hospitals strained the health system further. In addition, Jordan faced shortages of trained medical staff, particularly nurses at the peak of the pandemic. Nurses getting infected with COVID-19 contributed further to the shortage of nurses in the frontlines, leading to burnout and psychological distress among health care workers.
The collaboration between the private and public sectors was one of Jordan's pandemic success stories.Share on Twitter
The Jordanian government responded to the pandemic swiftly by acquiring ventilators and ramping up domestic production of Personal Protective Equipment to such a degree that supplies were exported to aid other countries. Demand for trained medical staff was addressed by recruiting graduate nurses and retired doctors and by mobilizing medical staff from the private sector to public hospitals. Focus was also placed on expanding access to COVID-19–related health care beyond the public hospital setting by creating field hospitals and allowing private hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. In fact, a few local health professionals agreed that the collaboration between the private and public sectors was one of Jordan's pandemic success stories.
In addition to these efforts, several public health measures were adopted on the technology front as well to curb the spread of the virus. For example, online platforms such as WhatsApp were utilized to disseminate COVID-19–related training courses to medical staff; drive-through clinics were utilized to address the needs of patients who were afraid to come to the hospital during the pandemic; a contact tracing mobile app, AMAN (which translates to “safety”), was developed to identify and close down geographic areas with high rates of COVID-19 infections; and transparency around supply shortages, occupancy levels in emergency departments and ICUs, and COVID-19 case updates were shared on Jordan's Ministry of Health website to keep health care providers and the general population well-informed.
Jordan launched a country-wide COVID-19 vaccination campaign in mid-January 2021 and committed to a nationwide vaccine for Jordanians, expat residents, and refugees free of charge. However, vaccine hesitancy posed a challenge to getting the population vaccinated. In fact, the COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rate in Jordan was identified as one of the lowest in the world. Misinformation about vaccines and the origin of the virus as well as initial hesitancy from health care workers to receive the vaccine may have played a role in exacerbating vaccine hesitancy.
To encourage more Jordanians to get vaccinated, an online registration platform was created with the intention to allow people more mobility. Over time, the desire for mobility and the witnessing of COVID-19–related deaths contributed to increased vaccine uptake. Intensive vaccination campaigns continued in the face of the fourth pandemic peak earlier this year with the emergence of the Omicron variant. As of last May, 44 percent of the Jordanian population is fully vaccinated.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the Jordanian government embraced an inclusive approach to pandemic management.Share on Twitter
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the Jordanian government embraced an inclusive approach to pandemic management. An accessible, equitable, and cost-free system was established to provide COVID-19 care at government-run facilities. Electronic platforms were created to gather information about vulnerable families in order to support them financially through formal channels. A home delivery system of psychotropics for the geriatric population was implemented to ensure that those with mental health conditions receive their medicine during quarantine.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees recognized Jordan for showing “exemplary leadership” by including refugees in all aspects of public health response to the pandemic, including the national vaccination campaign. Jordan was among the first countries to start a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccination program for all refugees in multiple camps.
Jordanian officials are currently focusing on reviving the country's economy which was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Public health restrictions such as social distancing and capacity limits in public spaces have been recently lifted and as of March 2022, COVID-19–related restrictions on foreign visitors began easing up, taking a key step towards improving the critical tourism industry. Jordanians are optimistic that the sustained removal of COVID-19 restrictions could result in economic gains, but also offer hope for a return to a normal life.
Nazia Wolters is a policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and Mahshid Abir is a senior physician policy researcher at RAND.
Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.