The Christian holy site, located in the occupied West Bank and known as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, began welcoming visitors again on Tuesday. The church closed on March 5 amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Anyone wanting to enter the Church of the Nativity must now be fever-free and wear a face mask.
The church will allow only 50 visitors at the same time, but its re-opening nonetheless signals a much-needed boost to the local tourism industry and the morale of Christians around the world, according to Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ayah.
“The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ gave hope to people more than 2,000 years ago, and opening the church today will, I think, give hope to the whole world that hopefully this pandemic will end – not only in Palestine but in the whole world,” Ma’ayah told Reuters.
On Tuesday afternoon, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said health officials recorded no new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours. Just 114 active cases remain active in Palestine, including 60 in East Jerusalem, 18 in Hebron, and 36 in the southern districts, the minister specified.
On May 25, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced the end of the state’s two-month-long lockdown, coinciding with the end of Eid celebrations to mark the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Shtayyeh said with the worst of the COVID-19 crisis over and Palestinians can focus on a “gradual return to normal life.” The prime minister gave all government offices, shops, religious sights, public transport services, public spaces, eateries, education institutions, events spaces, and courts the green-light to reopen on May 26.
“Today is a big Eid for Bethlehem and for believers,” the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem, Bishop Theophylactos, said in response to the announcement relaxing coronavirus restrictions on May 25.