Bethlehem Locked Down Due to Coronavirus

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories (AFP) — The city of Bethlehem was on lockdown Friday, after the first Palestinian cases of the deadly coronavirus were discovered there.

The Palestinian government announced a monthlong state of emergency late Thursday after the seven cases were identified, and the Israeli defense ministry said it had imposed emergency measures on Bethlehem, with all people “forbidden from entering or leaving the city.”

A wall between Israel and the Palestinian territories. The separation became more intense Thursday, when Palestinian and Israeli officials prohibited anyone from entering or leaving Bethlehem due to the coronavirus epidemic. (Photo via Pixabay)

It said the lockdown had been imposed “in coordination with the Palestinian Authority.”

The Church of the Nativity, built on the site that Christians believe was the birthplace of Jesus, was closed Thursday and is among places expected to be shuttered for a month.

All tourist buses to and from Bethlehem were banned until further notice, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

An AFP journalist saw around 20 buses stuck at a checkpoint run by Israeli personnel at the entrance to the Palestinian city, which is around 6 miles south of Israeli-controlled Jerusalem.

The streets in Bethlehem and Ramallah, where the Palestinian government is based, were nearly empty Friday morning, with most shops closed, eyewitnesses said.

Israel controls all entrances to the West Bank from the Jewish state but the Palestinian government has limited autonomy in cities.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh made a special broadcast late Thursday to announce the 30-day lockdown, saying the measures were essential to contain the disease.

All but essential travel between Palestinian governorates has been prohibited, and all schools and educational facilities would close, he said.

Public parks and tourist sites would close and large sporting events, conferences and other major gatherings were canceled, Shtayyeh said.

The Palestinian health ministry said the cases were detected at a hotel in the Bethlehem area.

The emergency measures came after the first Palestinian cases were confirmed Thursday afternoon.

All seven of those infected were being treated in quarantine, the Palestinian health ministry said.

The head of the local health directorate, Imad Shahadeh, said a group of Greek tourists had visited the hotel in late February, with two later diagnosed with the virus.

A number of suspected cases have since been identified among hotel workers, he said.

Asbed Balian, senior cleric of the Armenian church at the Church of the Nativity, said infected visitors had entered the site.

“People affected by corona visited the church,” he told AFP.

Workmen began spraying disinfectant inside the church on Thursday evening.

COGAT, (Coordinator of Government Activities in the [Palestinian] Territories), said it was “working closely with the Palestinian Authority” to stem the spread of the virus.

Israel, which has 16 confirmed cases of the disease, has imposed stringent measures on many European nations in a bid to contain the virus.

It has also scrapped joint military exercises with the United States in Germany.

The Israeli army said that from noon Friday all forces would be prevented from leaving Israel, whether “on personal trips or on duty.”

© Agence France-Presse

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