BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Bethlehem’s storied Church of the Nativity reopened to visitors on Tuesday, after a nearly three-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The church, built over the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, was closed on March 5 as the first cases of the virus were reported in the West Bank.
The church is one of Christianity’s most sacred shrines and the closure came ahead of the busy Easter holiday season that typically draws tens of thousands of visitors and worshipers.
Bishop Theophylactos, a Greek Orthodox cleric, called the reopening a day of celebration for Bethlehem since “all the people now can enter the church and pray like before.”
The Palestinian Authority has reported some 400 cases of the coronavirus in the West Bank, with two deaths. Most of the cases were traced to Palestinians who worked inside Israel, which has been coping with a much larger outbreak.
Israeli authorities have begun to gradually reopen schools, houses of worship and markets as the spread of the novel coronavirus has slowed. Israel’s Health Ministry has reported over 16,700 confirmed cases of the disease and 279 deaths. More than 14,000 have recovered.
Image: The Church of the Nativity that was closed as a preventive measure against the coronavirus is seen in Bethlehem, West Bank, Friday, March 6, 2020. The Palestinian tourism ministry said it’s closing the storied Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, as a precaution. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)