Bethlehem church to close after suspected coronavirus cases: official

Bethlehem (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


The church built on the Bethlehem site revered as the birthplace of Jesus is to temporarily close after a suspected outbreak of the coronavirus, a church official said Thursday.

The Palestinian health ministry called for local churches, mosques and other institutions to close after a number of suspected cases at a hotel in the city of Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Church of the Nativity remained open Thursday morning, an AFP photographer said.

"We respect the authorities' decision because safety comes first," the church official said on condition of anonymity.

"If not today then (the closure) will be tomorrow."

The Palestinian health ministry earlier announced that a number of suspected cases had been detected at a hotel in the Bethlehem area, the first in the Palestinian territories.

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

Four suspected cases have been identified among hotel workers, with full confirmation expected later today, he said.