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Palestinian Authority bars West Bank tourism over coronavirus

Local churches and mosques are to close after suspected cases in Bethlehem [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 5 March, 2020

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A number of suspected coronavirus cases have been detected at a hotel in Bethlehem, the first in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Palestine's tourism minister announced Thursday a two-week ban on tourists visiting cities in the occupied West Bank, after the first suspected cases of coronavirus in the territory.

"We have decided to prevent the entry of tourists for a period of 14 days and to prevent all hotels in all cities from receiving foreigners," tourism minister Rula Maayah told AFP.

The Palestinian tourism ministry also said that Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity - revered as the birthplace of Jesus - was to close "until further notice" amid coronavirus fears.

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," a 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 occupied 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.

All the hotel staff members are now believed to be in self quarantine, Hebrew-language daily Yisrael Hayom reported.

Several South Korean tourists who visited the West Bank in February were also later diagnosed with coronavirus. 

The tourist group visited Nablus, Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron. All restaurants and hotels visited by the group were ordered to be closed, Ynet reported.

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