Under emergency law, Jordan seals capital to contain coronavirus
By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN, March 19 (Reuters) - Jordan's army on Thursday sealed off the capital from the rest of the country as the kingdom puts its ten million inhabitants under a lockdown to try to combat the spread of coronavirus, witnesses and officials said.
Army checkpoints on main entrances to the sprawling capital of more than three million inhabitants began imposing a ban that allows entry only to vehicles carrying essential goods or people with authorised business from other provinces, witnesses said.
"These measures are to prevent the spread of the virus," Brigadier General Mukhles al Mufleh, army spokesman told state media.
The government has yet to announce a formal curfew but has asked people to stay in their homes and move only for emergencies. Security forces have threatened prison terms for violators.
King Abdullah invoked on Tuesday a defence act that grants Prime Minister Omar Razzaz broader authority hours after the army began a deploying on the main highways leading to the capital and main cities across the country.
The law, which is passed at times of war and calamities, is needed to enable major decisions that in normal times would infringe political and civil rights, such as imposing curfews and deploying the army in cities, officials said.
Jordan has closed land and sea border crossings with Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Israel, and suspended all incoming and outgoing flights since Tuesday. Only cargo flights and commercial overland shipments are entering or leaving the country.
Most shops shut their doors on Wednesday, heeding a government order that malls and shops close except for food stalls and pharmacies. Police later sealed with red wax stores that had defied the government decision.
Health Minister Saad Jaber said he expected the number of confirmed cases would rise from the current 56 before the measures to contain the spread took effect.
The country has quarantined more than 5,000 people who have recently arrived from abroad.
Measures taken in recent days have closed schools and public transport and prayers have been banned in mosques, while most public and private sector employees have been asked to stay at home.
In a series of actions to try to cushion the impact on the economy, Jordan's Central Bank earlier this week injected around $700 million into the economy by reducing banks compulsory reserves, cutting interest rates and delaying loan repayments. (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Barbara Lewis)