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Bethlehem in lockdown following suspected cases of coronavirus

March 5, 2020 at 2:10 pm

Foreign tourists wearing masks as a preventive measure against the coronavirus visit the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 5 March, 2020 [Abedalrahman Hassan/Apaimages]

All schools, mosques, and churches in the city of Bethlehem have been closed for 14 days after four suspected cases of coronavirus, Wafa news agency reported.

Dr Tarif Ashur, the Palestinian Authority health ministry spokesperson, called for local churches, mosques and other institutions to close their doors and for all activities and conferences to be cancelled for the next 14 days after four suspected cases of the virus were identified in the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala, a town next to Bethlehem.

Tests are still being carried out and the public should “not to panic”, he said.

“We took samples from Polish and American tourists staying in the hotel, as well as 21 employees. Most of them were tested negative, but we sent the samples to the Israeli side to confirm the results,” Ashur said.

The Angel Hotel has also been instructed to stop receiving foreign tourists for two weeks and has been designated as a quarantine site, with staff being placed in isolation.

According to the Jerusalem Post, residents in Bethlehem said that after some tourists staying at the hotel showed symptoms of the virus, hotel management reported the cases to the PA Ministry of Health.

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The ministry said in a statement that it was awaiting the results of the tests for the virus, which would be made available to the public. It called on the Palestinian people to obey instructions and act with restraint.

The closures include the Church of the Nativity, which contains a grotto believed to be the site where Jesus was born.

“We respect the authorities’ decision because safety comes first,” a church official said on condition of anonymity, reported the French news agency France24.

The two-week restriction will go into effect from tomorrow.