Jordan records a record number of COVID-19 cases with more than 10,000 new infections, sparking protests in the capital Amman. On the second consecutive night of protests, some 400 people, mostly young people, marched through the city centre before being held back by security forces.
The protesters, chanting "down with the emergency law", "Jordan is not for the corrupt" and "down with the government, we are not afraid of the coronavirus", set fire to tyres and bins and then threw stones at police, who responded by throwing tear gas canisters at them.
Demonstrations have also taken place in the south of Amman, in Madaba and in the north, in Irbid, as seen in videos posted by demonstrators. The population has reacted against a backdrop of tensions in the kingdom and after nine COVID-19 patients died on Saturday in intensive care at a hospital near Amman due to lack of oxygen.
The protesters are also unhappy with the 7 p.m. curfew as a measure to combat the pandemic. They say it paralyses economic activity and puts many day labourers out of work.
On Monday, King Abdullah II denounced the "loss of life through negligence as unacceptable", the Royal Palace reported. He also ordered the hospital director to resign in a video that went viral. In addition, he fired the health minister days after he replaced the interior and justice ministers for violating health restrictions. However, despite issuing a warning against civil unrest, he indicated that he will not change the government he formed in October.
He also added, in his first comments after the deaths, that government officials must be "conscious" and curb corruption. "Let's close the doors to the civil conflict that I am seeing in my country," he declared on state television. "I call on everyone to convey a message of law to Jordanian citizens and not allow people inside, and some outside, to be uncomfortable with Jordan's political position."
There was no immediate comment from the government, but Mazen al-Faraya, the interior minister, said on state television on Monday that it was a farce and that protesters were breaking curfew because of the virus and endangering public health. The government is monitoring the rest of the hospitals to make sure the same thing does not happen again.
The Jordanian economy has been particularly hard hit by the closures to contain the virus, with unemployment up 24%. On top of poverty and worsening living standards that had already contributed to the 2018 demonstrations involving mostly middle-class citizens.
Jordan recorded 9,417 new cases of infection and 82 deaths on Sunday, the largest official daily increase since the start of the pandemic.