Coronavirus: PA shuts Bethlehem mosques, fears of ‘economic catastrophe’

The PA Ministry of Health said on Sunday that 712 suspected samples of the virus tested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since January 20 were all negative.

Palestinians light Christmas tree in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, November 30, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
Palestinians light Christmas tree in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, November 30, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
The Palestinian Authority on Sunday closed all mosques in the Bethlehem area to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The PA Ministry of Wakf and Religious Affairs said the decision was in accordance with the state of emergency in the Palestinian territories that was announced by PA President Mahmoud Abbas after 19 people tested positive for the virus.
Bethlehem has been in lockdown since last Thursday, when the PA Ministry of Health confirmed the first seven cases of coronavirus in the city and neighboring Beit Jala. On Saturday, the ministry announced the number of people infected with the virus had risen to 19, however the number rose on Monday when new cases were reported. Five of the new cases were reported to be Bethlehem, and the fifth in Tulkarm, the first to be reported in that area.
Many Bethlehem residents have expressed deep concern over the lockdown, which has affected the tourism industry and other businesses.
The PA Ministry of Health on Sunday said 712 suspected samples of the virus tested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since January 20 were all negative.
The ministry said 2,000 Palestinians from Bethlehem who were in contact with the 24 infected people have been placed in home quarantine. Another 116 Palestinians have been placed in quarantine in other parts of the West Bank, the ministry added.
The 19 people infected with the virus have been quarantined in the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala and the Paradise Hotel in Bethlehem. Sixteen contracted the disease after coming in contact with Greek pilgrims, while the remaining three were infected by family members.
PA governor of Bethlehem Kamel Hmeid said a medical team was in touch with the 19 people inside the two hotels. Only a few tourists have remained in Bethlehem, where most of the hotels are empty and the Church of Nativity remains closed, he said. In addition, all wedding halls and convention centers in Bethlehem will remain closed to curb and prevent the spread of the virus, Hmeid said.
Sultan Nasser, 22, one of the Palestinians infected by the virus at the Angel Hotel, said he and his friends were now less worried.
“It’s no secret that it was very difficult for us in the beginning, and everyone here was worried,” he told the Palestinian news agency Wafa. “But thank God now we understand the situation and are coping with it in a good manner.”
Conditions inside the hotel were now much better, hotel manager Marian al-Arja said.
“Matters seem to be under control, and each day is better than the previous one,” she said. “We are receiving food and medicine. We are in high spirits, and there’s no need to panic.”
PA security forces have beefed up their presence in Bethlehem and set up 13 checkpoints to stop people from entering or leaving the sealed-off city.
Several Bethlehem residents told The Jerusalem Post the city has become a ghost town because many people are afraid to leave their homes. They also expressed concern that the closure of the city would lead to an “economic disaster.”
Tour guide George Anton told the Post he and his colleagues were worried it will take a long time before tourists return to Bethlehem.
“We don’t know what to do,” he said. “This is a real catastrophe for all of us. We never expected something like this. Bethlehem is paying a heavy price for hosting thousands of tourists and pilgrims.”
Most of the 5,000 hotel rooms in Bethlehem were occupied with tourists until last week, said Sami Aboud, a local hotel clerk.
“They have left Bethlehem, and we don’t know if and when they will come back,” he told the Post. “This is a big catastrophe for Bethlehem, especially for the tourism sector. Thousands of people working in the tourism industry have lost their income. We are under siege, and people are beginning to panic.”
Ibrahim Ramadan, the PA governor of Nablus, the largest Palestinian city, on Sunday ordered the closure of all coffee shops and wedding halls in the city. He said he was awaiting a fatwa (Islamic religious decree) from the mufti of Jerusalem regarding the closure of all mosques as well. The PA was also considering releasing some prisoners to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Ramadan said.



Tags Bethlehem