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Coronavirus shuts down Bethlehem

by Michael Ford last modified 11 Mar, 2020 05:23 PM

The Friends of the Holy Land have launched a Bethlehem Appeal to support the vulnerable population in the town.

The Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency in the West Bank Thursday as 7 cases of Bethlehem residents carrying the coronavirus were confirmed.

This means the Church of the Nativity and other places of worship in Bethlehem are shut, all tourism and religious sites across the West Bank are closed, and all tourists are banned from the West Bank for an unspecified amount of time. The Israeli army, in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, are enforcing a closure on Bethlehem, banning Israelis and Palestinians from entering or leaving the city.

A spokesperson for the Friends of the Holy Land said:

"Whilst this precautionary action is understandable and reflects similar situations in other countries, the impact on the Bethlehem economy is expected to be disastrous, especially in the lead up to Easter one of the key tourism seasons for the city.

"There is a great deal of fear in Bethlehem whose residents have been isolated from the West Bank and the World; a difficult step for a multi-cultural society which is used to welcoming so many visitors. Tourism is Bethlehem's main industry.

"More than 30% of the working population is employed in the industry with many more reliant on visitors’ business in shops, cafes, taxis etc. Tourism accounts for approximately 65% of the city's economy with around 2 million visitors last year. Employment conditions for most in the industry are fragile, hand to mouth with no safety net of social support.

"The lockdown is already having a devastating impact on the lives of most Christians in Bethlehem. Our office staff provide front-line support to the most needy every week. We ask you to help us gear up our levels of this support to offset those immediately affected by this lockdown in the weeks ahead - just £40 per week can put food on the table to feed a typical family whose breadwinner is now unemployed."

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