The Palestinian Authority announced on Saturday that 13 Christian American tourists were being quarantined for 14 days at the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala adjacent to Bethlehem after being tested for the coronavirus. The tourists were part of a group from the 3 Circle Church in Fairhope, Alabama. The church’s lead pastor, Chris Bell, is part of the group in quarantine.
“No one on our team has shown any signs of having contracted the virus. They have all been tested, and currently await full results and documentation. Afterward, they will be informed of the next steps concerning their quarantine and return home.” the church posted on its Facebook page.
The group was tested and placed in quarantine after seven employees at a hotel the group was staying at tested positive for the virus. The group left the hotel to look for new lodgings but were later taken back by local police.
The PA announced on Friday that an additional nine cases of coronavirus were diagnosed in Bethlehem, bringing the total to 16. It is believed the infection originated from a group of tourists from Greece who visited the city last month. The tourists tested positive upon returning home and their bus driver, a resident of East Jerusalem is in critical condition, suffering from Covid-19.
Israeli police have restricted tourist buses from entering Bethlehem until further notice.
The PA ordered the Church of the Nativity and other places of worship in Bethlehem to be closed for two weeks. The PA also banned all tourists from the West Bank for an unspecified amount of time. On Thursday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas issued a presidential decree declaring a state of emergency in all Palestinian-controlled territory for 30 days beginning on Friday, authorizing officials to take “all necessary measures to confront the risks resulting from the coronavirus and to protect public health.”
The closure comes four weeks before Easter Sunday, a Christian holiday in which many Christian tourists come to Bethlehem.
Israel radio quoted security officials as saying that the quarantined tourists were being allowed to leave the city gradually if they agreed to go directly to the airport, where they will be flown home.
The PA health ministry also said 120 people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were under home quarantine over concerns they may have the virus.
In Israel, 21 people are infected with some 80,000 under quarantine. More than 100,000 people have been infected globally and nearly 3,500 have died since it first appeared in central China in late December.