Bethlehem: Palestinian officials announced Thursday the storied Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem was closing indefinitely over fears of the new coronavirus, weeks ahead of the Easter holiday that draws tens of thousands of visitors and worshippers.
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 care.
Iran, the epicenter 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 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.
If confirmed, the four suspected cases would be the first in the Palestinian areas.
Built on the grotto where Christians believe Jesus was born, the church joins a list of prominent tourist and holy sites to shutter their doors in the wake of rising fears over the spread of the virus, which has infected tens of thousands and killed more than 3,000 globally.