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Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity closes over Covid-19 fears as Easter looms

The Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem receives some 10,000 tourists a day, according to Palestinian officials. From now it is being closed indefinitely over fears of Covid-19, weeks ahead of the Easter holiday that draws tens of thousands of visitors and worshipers, Palestinian authorities said.


The announcement by the Palestinian tourism ministry highlighted the spread of the virus across the Middle East, where worship at major holy sites has been greatly disrupted by the health scare.

Iran, the epicentre of the virus in the region, said it would set up checkpoints to limit travel between major cities and urged citizens to reduce their use of paper money to fight the spreading outbreak, which has killed at least 107 people across the Islamic Republic.

The virus has disrupted Muslim worship across the Middle East as well. Saudi Arabia last week banned pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca, while Iran has cancelled Friday’s Islamic prayers in major cities.

The Church of the Nativity was closed after suspicions that four Palestinians had caught the virus, prompting a flurry of measures that included banning all tourists from the West Bank for an unspecified amount of time and shutting down other places of worship in Bethlehem for two weeks. Other major places of worship in the Holy Land remained open.

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