Church of Nativity in Bethlehem to close over coronavirus fears

A number of suspected cases were reported in a hotel in the city of Bethlehem, according to Palestinian health ministry.

    Church of Nativity in Bethlehem to close over coronavirus fears
    The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is expected to witness tens of thousands of visitors and worshippers for the Easter holiday next month [Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

    The Church of the Nativity in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is to indefinitely shut down over the fears of coronavirus outbreak, Jeres Qumsiyeh, a church spokesman, said.

    After four suspected cases were reported in a hotel in the city of Bethlehem by the AFP news agency, the Palestinian health ministry called for local churches, mosques and other institutions to close down until further notice.

    The ministry had earlier announced that many suspected cases were detected at a hotel in the Bethlehem area, the first in the Palestinian territories.

    Imad Shahadeh, head of the local health directorate, told AFP that a group of Greek tourists had visited the hotel in late February, with two later discovered to have the virus.

    "We respect the authorities' decision because safety comes first," the church official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

    The official did not specify when the closure would take place, but noted that it may take place later on Thursday or Friday.

    The Church of the Nativity is expected to witness tens of thousands of visitors and worshippers for the Easter holiday next month.

    More than 3,150 cases of the virus have been reported across the Middle East.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies