This investigation documents how the Jordanian government’s rush and confusion to implement quarantine instructions before preparing the logistics and health requirements has put the Jordanian truck drivers crossing the Al-Omari crossing from Saudi-Arabia to Jordon in immense danger and made the crossing a COVID-19 hotspot. The compulsory quarantine imposed on them at the crossing forced hundreds of drivers to sleep in the open air for days and sometimes for two weeks awaiting their turn to get a place at the quarantine station. The examination procedures also violated health protocols and were considered infectious.
The investigation shed light on an issue that most people didn’t know about specially since it pertains to a group of people that are under reported: truck drivers. Most importantly, the investigation increased pressure on the government that it announced a decrease in the compulsory quarantine period from two weeks to only one week after the investigation was published. After a while, it was only compulsory to do a PCR test. If the result came back negative, the drivers would have to quarantine at home, and it it came back positive, they would have to move to a quarantine station.
I used live video chats with drivers at the border instead of face-to-face interviews due to the lockdown and the closure of all facilities. As for the digital tools, I used videos, audio recordings, videographs, charts, timelines, and open source data.
What was the hardest part of this project?
While working on this investigation, it was hard to control all of the details because it was a completely new situation and there were new things happening everyday. Therefore, I had to put certain themes in front of me to focus on, including the confusion of government decisions, the poor implementation of those decisions, the violation of health protocols, and the victims of those violations. From there, I had to collect all of the facts to build a deep story that covers everything that happened from the beginning of the pandemic, to the imposition of quarantine on drivers, up until all of the continued confusion for months and the social, physical, and health consequences of this confusion.
In addition tot this, every investigative journalist seeks to check every piece of information told by his sources, and this was difficult to do while working under lockdown and being unable to do field work and go to the crossing, so I resorted to remote video interviews with drivers at the crossing to document everything with image and sound. Some of the drivers interviewed were quarantined and some were waiting for their turns to quarantine. This monitoring and documentation phase went on for a month, and was then followed by using open source data, verification, and double checking all the information and making sure the information gathered matched the data.
One of the other hard things was obtaining statistics related to a new pandemic, so I resorted to the daily press briefing issued by the Jordanian Ministry of Health regarding the Coronavirus. I collected the important statistics over a period of 4 months and analyzed them in order to uncover the existing gaps and unveil confusion.
What can others learn from this project?
It is important to invest in the tools currently offered by technology to overcome the difficulties that our circumstances sometimes impose on us, and it is vital to analyze the data to get a clear picture of the situation that the journalist seeks to document. Remember that if an official body refuses to give a statement or provide you with statistics, then your role does not end here, because the same information and statistics can be found in annual reports issued by a another related party. Compiling and analyzing such data will be an added value to the investigation, and this is what I did in my investigation regarding statistics that I got from the daily press briefings on COVID-19 issued by the Jordanian Ministry of Health.