Jordan eases lockdown after total curfew leads to chaos

Soldiers patrol atop a military vehicle on deserted street in Amman.

(CNN)Jordan on Wednesday eased one of the world's strictest lockdowns over the coronavirus after it prompted chaotic scenes in the country.

Days after a total curfew went into effect, people clamored to receive bread distributions from government trucks, the emergency hotline went offline after it apparently became overloaded with phone calls, and some reported they had nothing at home to eat.
But on Tuesday, the government backtracked, loosening restrictions on movement. After four days of total lockdown, people were allowed to leave their homes on foot for essential trips, such as purchasing food from small convenient stores and obtaining medicine. A curfew is still in place from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m.
    "There was a collective exuberant response when the Prime Minister announced last night that the small grocery stores would be opened today and you can walk to them," Adam Coogle, Amman-based Deputy Director at Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division, told CNN.
    Jordan's General Security Department said 1,657 people were arrested as of Monday for violating the total curfew put in place on Saturday morning. Offenders face up to a year in prison.
    On Wednesday, the government warned that authorities may again take harsh measures in the days to come. "These is an increase in the number of infected people and this is an uncomfortable indication and calls for hardening (measures)," said Minister of State for Media Affairs Amjad Adayleh.
    A usually busy street in the Jordanian capital Amman lies deserted.

    Concerns about total curfew

    Air raid sirens blared at 7 a.m. on Saturday to announce the total ban on movement. On Sunday, the government announced the curfew would be extended indefinitely, sowing panic in the country.
    "People got concerned. There was unfortunately a lack of clarity and some mixed messaging that caused some anxiety among people here," said Coogle. "The government had not yet announced how they would deal with basic needs."
    Social media video showed a throng of people surrounding a government food truck, after the authorities tried to monopolize the delivery of food. Pharmacies fielded a barrage of phone calls requesting deliveries.
    The severity of the former curfew rules flies in stark contrast with countries like Italy, which have seen restrictions for weeks but still allow citizens to visit shops if they can prove their reason for the trip.
    The harshness of the orders are especially striking given Jordan's relatively low number of cases. Just 153 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the country, the government said in an update on Tuesday.
    "Being under lockdown feels like you're always on edge, because we're used to going out and seeing people," Hassan Karim, a clothing store employee, told CNN on Tuesday. "Our morale is a bit low, but we have to acclimate until the situation gets better."
    Jordan acted swiftly to limit the spread of the coronavirus, beginning to lock down the country within days of confirming its first case of Covid-19.
    Borders were shut, while airports, universities and places of worship all closed. People arriving on flights were placed straight into quarantine, sometimes in five-star hotels taken over by the government, and entrances to cities were patrolled by the military.