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Social Distancing: Arab Countries Fight Coronavirus in Their Own Way

Social Distancing: Arab Countries Fight Coronavirus in Their Own Way

Wednesday, 1 April, 2020 - 12:15
People wearing face masks walk in Damascus, Syria. (EPA)
Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Tunis, Algiers, Casablanca, Dubai, Damascus, Ramallah, Tel Aviv - Mohammed Khair al-Rawashdeh, Caroline Akoum, Mohamed Nabil Helmy, Mongi Saidani, Boualem Goumrassa, Lahcen Mokena and Asharq Al-Awsat

Social distancing may be the most important weapon, and perhaps the only effective means to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Policies of self-isolation, quarantine and curfews differed from one country to another. While countries such as Tunisia and Jordan implemented a total curfew, Egypt decided to impose it only at night. The UAE has resorted to the “national sterilization” initiative, and the Palestinian Authority has implemented the security zones plan.

Just as the policies differ from one country to another, the concerns of citizens are not the same. Poverty deprives some of Lebanon’s residents of the “luxury” of staying at home and in Syria, the quarantine is more frightening than COVID-19.


The curfew in the UAE was called “national sterilization.” Launched on March 26, the program is implemented overnight, between 8 pm and 6 am, while most state and private institutions are implementing the teleworking policy.

Movement was restricted across the cities in the evening, while normal traffic was allowed during the day. Throughout the curfew period, many areas and facilities in the Emirates are sterilized in several stages.

Dr. Farida Al Hosani, the official spokeswoman for the health sector in the UAE, said that more than 70 percent of the citizens, residents and visitors have committed to the new policies.


Three weeks after the government in Lebanon declared general mobilization to reduce the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, life seemed to return to normal in a number of regions. In Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon and other cities, traffic is back to normal, at a time when citizens are supposed to be committed to the measures that protect them from a virus that does not distinguish between the elderly and the young, the poor and the rich.

But in Lebanon, where the poor do not have the “luxury” of staying home, many have no choice but to risk their own life and that of their beloved, to secure a livelihood, choosing between starving to death and contracting a virus.

Mayor of Tripoli, Riad Yamaq, summed up the situation to Asharq Al-Awsat: “When we ask people to stay in their homes, they reply: secure our income.”

Pending the implementation of the government plan, the Tripoli municipality is working to secure about 30,000 food rations out of 50,000, which the city’s families need, but which are only enough for 20 days, according to Yamaq.


Despite her high fever and acute cough, a Syrian woman in Jdeidet Artouz refused to see the doctor to check whether she was suffering from the new coronavirus or the seasonal flu, out of her fear of being forced into a quarantine.

A police patrol accompanied by a health team in her city, located in the western countryside of Damascus, took eight persons suspected of being infected with the virus to a quarantine area, after they were reported through clinics and health units.

“After we saw the way those people were taken, I fear for my family and the unknown that we may face in quarantine. I am almost sure that if I am not really infected, I will contract the virus there,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

So, the woman decided to keep silent about her illness and remain at home while following all the necessary health instructions.

A Syrian dissident residing in the Damascus countryside said security forces were treating people suspected of having the coronavirus as criminals.

“Moreover, lack of confidence in the health sector, which was destroyed during the war, reinforced the people’s fear of entering hospitals and being infected with the virus,” he underlined.


The sleepless city, whose hustle and bustle could last until the early hours of the morning, appears void of life.

Reporters monitor this silence with their steady cameras, fixed in several points of Amman.

At 6 pm, sirens remind the population to stay home, with limited exceptions for doctors, journalists and some trucks providing basic services, such as food supplies and vegetables.

Jordanians spend their nights watching local news channels, which have devoted all their coverage to coronavirus cases.

Palestinian Territories

The Palestinian Authority has restricted the movement of people in order to ensure the implementation of social distancing. Strict instructions were issued, followed by the closure of cities, villages and camps, while allowing minor emergency cases through.

However, with the emergence of cases in other parts of Palestinian territories, the Authority locked down all cities and prohibited movement from one city to another before it launched a second phase that is isolating villages and rural areas from the main agglomerations.

The PA has also adopted the plan of “security zones”, which is based on isolating areas inside the cities, so that residents of these squares can obtain their needs, including vegetables, bread and medicine from inside the area itself.

Other measures include closing all borders and putting all people coming from abroad in a 14-day quarantine within specific centers across the different governorates.

In Israel, quarantine is imposed for a period of 14 days for every citizen coming from abroad, without exception, and for every resident or citizen showing any signs of infection.


While Egyptians are separated by the curfew in the evening, they find themselves jammed in public transport in the morning, in search of their livelihood.

More than a week ago, Egyptian authorities imposed a temporary curfew from 7 pm to 6 am, and adopted a number of measures to ease crowding in government facilities, urging the private sector to adopt the same approach.

However, around 28.8 million Egyptians work in private institutions, which makes the need to avoid the crowds in public transportation almost impossible. Media outlets have launched “stay home” campaigns to raise awareness among the citizens.


Tunisia’s health and security authorities have registered many violations among citizens, who defied the general lockdown and the overnight curfew.

A number of Tunisians also violated the health ban by gathering in front of the post offices, in violation of social distancing, in order to obtain social assistance set by the government at around 200 Tunisian dinars (about 70 USD).


A source from the Algerian Ministry of Health’s scientific committee, charged with following up the coronavirus epidemic, said that it submitted a report recommending the immediate implementation of a total lockdown in all regions of the country.

The partial isolation procedures in the capital and nine other states are not sufficient, according to the report, as hundreds of people still organize and visit popular markets.


The health emergency in Morocco was approved on March 20. The government issued a special law to regulate it. The measures included social distancing and home confinement.

The law also stipulated the need to resort to government measures that would mitigate the social and economic impacts of quarantine, while maintaining the continuity of economic activity and providing the local market with the necessary products and materials.

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