The Jordanian Minister of Health was interviewed on France 24’s “Middle East Matters” program, hosted by Sanam Shantyaei, to talk about his efforts to lead Jordan to fight the coronavirus.
Here is a transcript of the interview as it appeared on April 28:
Presenter: Now let’s turn to Jordan, which has become one of the first countries in the region to step up its fight against the COVID-19 epidemic. For almost 40 days, daily life was turned upside down. The economy is paralyzed, the population of 10 million divided and the borders closed. Some have described these measures as draconian. But according to experts, it is thanks to these first steps that the country has managed to maintain a very low death rate, which is currently less than 10. And at the head of this campaign to combat the disease, we had a man, the Minister of Health Saad Jabr, whose night press briefings have become essential television in Jordan and he joins us from Amman. Minister Jaber, thank you very much for talking to us about Middle East issues here.
Minister: Thank you very much for hosting me. I appreciate that.
Presenter: Now they’re calling you Jordan’s response to Dr. Fauci. It is, of course, the voice of confidence in the United States on the virus. But you managed to do something that he couldn’t do. Your country has taken very severe preventive measures. How did you do that, given that it happened at a time when neighboring countries were still hanging out, some might say?
Minister: I looked at what was happening in China in Wuhan and when I heard that they quarantined the whole city or an entire province of 20 million inhabitants, and seeing what they were doing, it seemed that something big was going to happen and it was not an easy thing. So we started to dig out what’s going on and how serious is this? It was obvious that it was going to happen. So we started, maybe January 24, before the disease ended a month her age, to take action because otherwise, I mean, I thought something big was going to happen and reach us and what would be disastrous if at least we are not some sort of preparation or knowing where we are and what we can do. It was something serious. Before the disease ended its first month, we began to take certain steps to prevent the disease from coming to Jordan.
Presenter: Absolutely. But right now, Minister, are you worried about this inevitable second wave? Jordan is starting to open up, especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is truly a time for the community.
Minister: Of course, I mean, we have two threats. If there are sleeping areas with the disease that we have not yet discovered. So we are increasing our capacity and our testing capacity. We are therefore increasing the number of random and high-risk group tests to find out if there is an area not yet tested. And the other threat is the Jordanians from abroad. We soften. So we impose more stringent criteria for those who must be tested at the airport upon arrival, and then they must go through 14 days of quarantine, after which they must be tested again.
Presenter: And you obviously talked about your own population. But beyond that, Jordan hosts the second largest number of refugees per capita after Lebanon. How do you manage these refugee camps, Minister?
Minister: Yes. Well, of course, we have many visits to the refugee camps. The largest today hosts 77,000 refugees. At least we prevented or closed the camp. No one from outside is allowed to enter. So if it has this coronavirus disease, it will spread indoors. We open the testing capacity. We have a small hospital there capable of handling cases and trained to treat coronaviruses.
Host: But are people able to practice social isolation, minister, inside these camps?
Minister: No. Certainly, but we have a training campaign. We are trying to prevent, I mean, people from getting involved in social gatherings and we have definitely stopped the schools that we had opened. We stopped everything. And there has been training for the people there on how to manage, how to do social distancing. And we tried to improve sanitation.
Presenter: Now, Your Excellency, Jordan is said to be developing this mobile application, an electronic trace, I believe. And yes, these tracking and tracing tools could help isolate infected individuals. But it also raises the question of how intrusive it can be for people’s privacy. What do you think about this? Briefly, if he can.
Minister: Well, certainly, these apps are very useful for tracking down people in quarantine. In our system, anyone in quarantine must also stay or spend an additional 14 days at home. This will allow us to find them. In addition, some truck drivers arrive.
Presenter: My question is more about surveillance. Will this application be reduced once the crisis is over?
Minister: I hope the crisis will be over and all of these measures will diminish. But it will certainly help us find them. Regarding confidentiality, I think if we need these measures, we should use them. So I mean, right now, we probably need it to find infected or uninfected people in quarantine. So we need it. So once the need is done, we no longer need to use them. I mean, privacy is very important in Jordan and human rights are very important in Jordan. We respect that. But now we have to find a balance between health and their rights. So we’re trying to be a little bit healthier these days.
Presenter: Absolutely. And I am very glad that you mentioned human rights because, of course, sorry to interrupt you, this is a particularly difficult time for the spread of misinformation that is happening worldwide. Do you agree that you need to work with the country’s media and journalists to keep people informed? And the reason why I raise this issue is that, of course, two journalists were arrested in Jordan because of their critical reporting.
Minister: Well, we are working hand in hand with journalism and the media and in fact our strong media campaign, not only talking about me or the Minister of Health, but the whole medical part has had a huge very effective media campaign that has built or built trust between the government and the people. So I mean, we are working hand in hand to fight this disease. And we succeeded together because we knew from day one, from day one, that we will only succeed if people trust us.
Presenter: Absolutely. That was the question, but we come back to this question of trust. What about detained journalists?
Minister: Well, it’s something else. You know, we said, I mean, the government said we should fight rumors and any false information that would distrust the people and the government.
Presenter: But is it suspicion, Your Excellency, to draw attention to workers’ complaints about the economic impact of imprisonment. Is this a rumor for you?
Minister: I don’t know which journalists you are talking about ..
Presenter: I’m talking about Fares Sayegh and Mohammad AlKhaldi from Roya TV in Jordan.
Minister: Okay. History was a question. History was a question. I do not know. I mean, what other causes could have been for their detention? But it wasn’t totally for the free press or something like that. There was something else. I do not know the exact reason. I know the story, but this story has been questioned by a lot of people, so I can’t talk about it, especially since their story is now in court and in Jordan, the law, once there is a case in court, you can’t talk about it until the judge, I mean, says his word.
Presenter: Absolutely. Your Excellency, I’m afraid we don’t have time, but the reason I raised this question is that the locals see you as a voice of reason, a leading voice in this crisis and perhaps to be human rights. The dissemination of information is closely linked to this. Thank you a lot. Saad Jarber, Jordanian Minister of Health, for speaking with us here on Middle East issues. I really appreciate your time.
Minister: Thank you very much.
Presenter: Thank you for being with us.
– FRANCE 24 English (@ France24_en) April 28, 2020