Experts urge caution as eid comes amid rising fear of new Covid wave

Women wearing masks recently shop for produce in Al-Wehdat, south Amman (Photo: Zoe Sottile/Jordan News).
Women wearing masks recently shop for produce in Al-Wehdat, south Amman (Photo: Zoe Sottile/Jordan News).
AMMAN — Eid Al-Adha is typically a holiday filled with family visits, warm embraces, and the sharing of food. But health experts and officials are urging Jordanians to maintain social distancing and other safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.اضافة اعلان

For the past few weeks, Jordan’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have hovered between 400 and 600 per day (between July 1 and 10, the daily average was 495 cases). But on Monday, the number jumped to 767 and the positivity rate hit 3.7 percent - spiking fears that a third wave of the pandemic is on the way. The positivity rate dropped back to 2.9 percent on Tuesday, but experts and health officials alike are still calling for adherence to safety measures.

Minister of Health Firas Hawari told local media that Monday’s rise in cases is “alarming.” He called for the adherence to all defense orders and for all citizens to wear masks and practice social distancing.

"This increase in infections (requires) all of us to be serious in adhering to safety procedures and means of preventing the coronavirus and its variants,” Hawari said, “and also calls for those who have not yet taken the initiative to take the vaccine to immunize themselves and to immunize their family and the community around them.”

According to Mohannad Al-Nsour, member of the National Epidemiological Committee and executive director of the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network, it is critical for Jordanians to follow safety measures during the holiday. Eid Al-Adha is typically associated with huge gatherings, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and prolonged family visits.

“Coming to eid, we have to be careful,” said Nsour. “We don’t want to go back to the big visits, kissing, these things.”

Nsour also noted that more critical than the number of cases recorded in the country is the positivity rate. “Monday’s figure was a critical point, with the positivity rate rising to reach 3.7 percent, which was the highest in the last ten weeks,” he said. “In May, it was 4.67 percent.”

The following day, the ratio dropped to 2.9 percent.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommendations, it is ideal for a country’s positivity rate to stay below five percent. But Nsour noted that even rising to seven or eight percent would not be debilitating for Jordan.

Delta variant takes over
As Jordan News previously reported, as many as 80 percent of the COVID-19 cases in the country currently are the extra-contagious Delta strain, which originated in India.

“This means high positivity and high infectivity,” said Nsour. “We expect to receive more cases.”

The spread of the highly transmissible strain makes it all the more important for individuals to follow safety precautions. The Delta strain could threaten the progress the country has made to staving off the virus.

The epidemiologist urged the importance of following indicators other than the positivity rate and number of confirmed cases, such as hospital indicators: admission rate, ICU occupancy, and other factors.

“This is very important, because if we have only mild and moderate cases and our healthcare system is not very occupied, we can survive,” he said.

The existing COVID-19 vaccines have shown to be effective, albeit less so, against the Delta variant.

Vaccination drive slows down
Nsour praised the country’s vaccination efforts. As of Tuesday, 2,658,675 individuals across Jordan have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 1,707,622 have received both doses. 3,341,685 individuals are registered on the vaccine platform,

However, the Ministry of Health has noted recently that registration on the platform has stalled, and has toyed with the idea of opening all vaccine centers to those without appointments to encourage vaccination.

“Now we have vaccines, but we don’t have people,” Nsour commented. “The Ministry of Health and the government in general added new strategies that will help the country to move forward with the vaccines.”

According to Nsour, the combination of the sizeable rate of vaccination in the country with the high proportion of those who have already recovered from the virus means that the next wave of the pandemic – if it comes - will likely be gentler than the devastating second wave.

However, this is not justification to abandon safety measures. “Because what we saw with the (Delta) variant, we can see the vaccine efficacy has been changed. We start seeing reinfection for certain groups. So we can’t generalize. We have to be careful. We do not want to give the impression that we can do whatever we want,” he said.

MPs meet with WHO
The Lower House’s Health and Environment Committee met with the representative of the World Health Organization in Jordan to discuss the epidemiological situation on Tuesday. The meeting followed Monday’s spike in the Kingdom’s COVID-19 positivity rate.

Head of the panel, MP Ahmed Al-Sarahneh, told Jordan News that the meeting was to discuss the health situation in Jordan in general and also to discuss the epidemiological development and the Corona pandemic in particular.

Sarahneh added that the Jordanian experience in managing the epidemiological situation was discussed, and the key piece of advice was adherence to hygienic precautions and health protocols.

The deputy said that the importance of taking vaccinations was emphasized, adding that the lack of recognition by some countries of some vaccinations - like Sinopharm - was discussed.

“The answer of the representative of the World Health Organization was that all the vaccinations in place are good and effective, and the reason that prevents some countries from recognizing these vaccines is a political and economic reason and nothing more,” explained Sarahneh.

The deputy added that the World Health Organization has no authority to force a country to recognize a type of vaccine.

He said that Jordan faces an increased number of coronavirus cases, “thus we may see a third wave of the pandemic.”

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