The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Reflections from Amman and Havana: Messages from Lockdown Part 2

The Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan

Below is a brief explanation of my understanding of the response of both countries, from talking with my friends, for those interested in learning about the situation in each country: 

Cuba:

I was in Cuba when the pandemic started unfolding, so I felt the slow buildup there. It began with my host mom telling me to wash my hands more, and ended in a dramatic week where my program was canceled on Monday, and I was back in my house in the States on Friday. By the following Monday, pretty much every foreign student had left Cuba, and soon after the University of Havana was in the process of suspending classes. Now the University is completely closed for the semester, meaning students who were intending to graduate no longer can do so this semester. The day before I left Cuba, the University of Havana held a university-wide briefing of the situation to explain to students the nature of the virus, how to protect themselves, and what steps the government was taking. For about a week leading up to this, nearly all bars and restaurants closed down, but people were still hanging out outside and taking buses.

In terms of the actual restrictions now, my friends have been saying that staying inside is just a recommendation, but you’re only supposed to leave the house if absolutely necessary and with a mask. A couple of different university student groups made videos committing to stay inside, with the hashtag #YoMeQuedoEnCasa. One of my friends said that a challenge as the cases rise is leaving without a mask to get food, and having to go further and further as buses aren't running, and wait in long lines. She also said that police are likely to question you if you don’t have a mask, but that not everyone has access to masks to begin with. Last time I asked, on Saturday, April 19th, the country had 620 reported cases and 16 fatalities. Reports now put that higher at 818 active cases and 46 deaths. 

I wrote in another blog about two major international moments for Cuba during its coronavirus response: allowing an infected boat to dock, and sending doctors to Italy. Both of these actions are interesting to look into. While there are concerns now about rising cases, a lot of concern is directed towards food shortages and economic challenges Cuba has been facing that the crash in tourism will severely worsen. Largely because of U.S. sanctions, Cuba has to use hard (foreign) currency to import food on the global market, which it is severely lacking now that no foreign currency is coming into the country. 

 

Jordan:

Within days of their first confirmed case, Jordan began to enforce one of the world’s strictest curfews on March 21st. They subsequently shut down travel, putting anyone arriving in quarantine in hotels for free, and closed all public spaces of worship and universities. With the curfew came enforcement from the military, and reached what is now close to 2,000 people in prison for violation of the curfew. As with Cuba, one of the biggest concerns in Jordan when these restrictions were announced was access to food. As unemployment and economic challenges are common in the capital city of Amman, it is easy to imagine how access to food and financial stability deteriorates even further in other parts of the country, particularly in Syrian refugee camps. After the strict leaving for emergencies only, curfew ran into push back over confusion in how to access essential needs (like pharmacies and food), the restrictions were eased up a little and some grocery stores and pharmacies were opened back up. People still can’t travel between cities, and following an outbreak at a wedding in Irbid, the city was completely locked down.

Right now, people can only leave the house between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., and they can only do so by foot. There are daily briefings from the Minister of Health and the Minister of Information, and I think that on most Fridays and Saturdays you can’t leave the house at all. The only people that can drive are people still working, such as medical staff, workers in pharmacies. Otherwise, the army will confiscate your car until after the lockdown is over, and you may be fined. Universities and schools moved online, and those without internet connection are receiving connection free from the government. From what I understand about this, anyone without internet connection can apply for an “internet bundle” through Facebook from the government and receive it for free. A friend also told me they took random samples of people on the streets across all cities starting a week ago to assess the situation and how quarantine is working. 

As of Wednesday April 22nd, Jordan reported 435 total cases and seven deaths.