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As cases drop, protesters flout social distancing measures

Protestors at a pro-Palestine rally in stand in close proximity to each other, with only some wearing face masks, in Downtown Amman, on May 16, 2021. (Photo: Ameer Khalifeh/JordanNews)
Protestors at a pro-Palestine rally in stand in close proximity to each other, with only some wearing face masks, in Downtown Amman, on May 16, 2021. (Photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — As violence escalated in occupied Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, Jordanians have taken to the streets in the hundreds to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and call for action by their government. The large gatherings come after over a year of stringent government regulations requiring social distancing.اضافة اعلان

Any large gathering, regardless of its purpose, is likely to expose individuals to COVID-19, according to Muhannad Nsour, executive director of the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network and member of the Epidemiology Committee.

“Any gathering can cause and spread this virus, regardless whether it’s social, political, sports-oriented, or religious,” said Nsour in an interview with Jordan News. “It’s very dangerous with COVID-19,” Nsour said, recalling incidents across the world where religious and other types of gatherings were held, such as in India, and an increased number of cases was expected.

“The thing is, we need to wait a couple of weeks to see” any possible COVID-19 effects from the protests, Nsour added. “A couple of weeks will be enough to see any changes.”

For some political figures, the risk of COVID-19 pales in comparison to the violence facing Palestinians. “What we are witnessing today is much more important than COVID, especially because we got to a good stage of vaccinations and numbers,” said Abdul Mohdi Akayleh, secretary-general of the National Congress Party (Zamzam), in an interview with Jordan News.

“The situation in Jerusalem is a life or death situation, it’s more important than the health measures. This is our first cause and people are looking at this with a great sense of importance.”

However, Ahmad Sarahneh, head of the Lower House’s Health Committee, told Jordan News that protesters should nonetheless respect the health regulations. “As important as the cause is, the situation at hand has made those protesting in the name of Palestine and its holy sites forget their health and wellbeing,” the lawmaker said.

“It is very difficult to control adherence to regulations under such circumstances as people want to chant out loud and have their voices heard,” he explained. “I myself joined one of the protests without wearing a mask.”

According to Nsour, the epidemiological status of the country is fairly positive at the moment. “The transmission or the positivity rate nowadays in Jordan is very low,” he said, making gatherings less dangerous. “This gives us some sort of hope.”

While the epidemiologist pointed out that Jordan may still see a third wave of the virus, it is too soon to tell whether protests will contribute to a rise in cases. “Could these gatherings contribute? Nobody can judge now. We need to see.”

The dialogue over COVID-19 and protests mimics a line of thought that occurred during the Black Lives Matters protests that erupted last summer in the United States after a policeman murdered George Floyd. As thousands of protesters gathered after months of social distancing and isolation, some pundits wondered whether they would trigger a spike of COVID-19 cases. 

But research by a team of economists, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, argued against this theory, finding that the protests across the country were not linked to a significant increase in coronavirus infections. Many protesters wore masks and the demonstrations all took place outside, where the virus is less likely to spread, according to the study. 

The study, verified by municipal COVID-19 testing data, actually found that cities that hosted demonstrations saw an increase in social distancing measures.

According to Nsour, the increased vaccinations and large population of previously infected individuals mean that Jordan has a significant population with some immunity to the virus and thus some protection from another spike. Still, he said, “any gathering means that we are at risk of having more cases.”

“We need to keep reminding everyone about the importance of our masks,” Nsour said. “It’s not the end, it’s only the beginning. We need to keep the mask, keep the distance. All of these are important messages. And, of course, the fourth one is vaccination.”

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