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Palestinian Authority Announces West Bank Tourism Ban Over Coronavirus

Palestinian Authority Announces West Bank Tourism Ban Over Coronavirus

Thursday, 5 March, 2020 - 12:45
A visitor wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the coronavirus takes pictures in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

The Palestinians announced a two-week ban on tourists visiting cities and sites in the occupied West Bank Thursday, after the first suspected cases of coronavirus in the territory.


The two-week restriction, announced by the Palestinian Tourism Ministry, goes into effect on Friday.


The church of the nativity, built on the Bethlehem location revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is among the sites expected to be closed off until March 20.


"We have decided to prevent the entry of tourists for a period of 14 days and to prevent hotels in all cities from receiving foreigners," tourism minister Rula Maayah told AFP.


A church official confirmed the planned closure.


"We respect the authorities' decision because safety comes first," the official said on condition of anonymity.


The decision followed the first suspected cases in the West Bank of the disease, which has spread rapidly across the globe since emanating from China.


The Palestinian health ministry announced a number of suspected cases had been detected at a hotel in the Bethlehem area.


The head of the local health directorate, Imad Shahadeh, told AFP that a group of Greek tourists had visited the hotel in late February, with two later discovered to have the virus.


Four suspected cases have been identified among hotel workers, with full confirmation expected later Thursday, he said.


Palestinian health officials said they were examining whether four hotel workers in Bethlehem had contracted the disease from tourists who stayed there.


Police surrounded the hotel, as authorities awaited the results of laboratory tests.


Israel controls all entrances to the West Bank from the Jewish state but the Palestinian government has limited autonomy in cities.


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