Unlike the previous years, the streets of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem look empty ahead of the Christmas due to the spread of the COVID-19.
Palestinian officials recently said this year’s celebrations will take place under strict anti-COVID-19 measures, adding that the celebrations are limited to religious rituals with reduced numbers of worshippers.
The authorities in the city have imposed precautionary measures to curb the spread of the disease, including stopping receiving tourists in Bethlehem and the West Bank.
Every year, the authorities in Bethlehem would receive such holidays with extensive arrangements to secure pilgrims who come from other part of the world. However, the spread of the coronavirus in Palestine has hampered all these preparations.
“This year’s Christmas celebrations will be observed with the participation of the minimum number of worshippers and strict precautionary measures,” mayor of Bethlehem Anton Salman said.
Salman explained that the celebrations will be broadcasted on TV channels and social media apps, stressing that the number of invitees will be limited.
Salman noted that Bethlehem is the most affected Palestinian city by the coronavirus spread as it heavily relies on foreign tourism which has been completely halted since the outbreak of the pandemic.
According to the Palestinian Association of Hotel Owners in the city, there are about 70 hotels in Bethlehem that employ around 3,000 workers, most of whom lost their jobs due to the suspension of domestic and foreign tourism.
Despite the resumption of work in most sectors in the Palestinian territories, the tourism field remains closed.
In addition, the 170 craft shops, and about 100 woodcarvings, embroidery and decoration workshops remained closed.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 33,000 Palestinians working in the tourism sector have become unemployed in all the West Bank districts, mainly in Bethlehem.
Spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities Jereyes Qumseyah said that the tourism activity in Bethlehem has been severely affected, which is reflected in the city’s residents’ lives, adding that 70 percent of Bethlehem’s economy depends on tourism.
“The suspension of tourist activity is accompanied by difficulties that prevent the revival of domestic tourism in Bethlehem due to the general economic deterioration of the Palestinian citizens,” he said.
For Palestine, tourism is a main artery for its economy. It attracted more than 3.5 million tourists and Christian pilgrims from across the world last year.