Coronavirus outbreak Bethlehem - an update

The Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency last Thursday and put Bethlehem in Lockdown as cases of Coronvirus were detected. This means the Church of the Nativity and other places of worship in Bethlehem are shut, all tourism and religious sites across the West Bank are closed and all tourists banned from the West Bank for an unspecified amount of time. The Israeli army, in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, are enforcing a closure on Bethlehem; 13 checkpoints are set up to stop people from entering or leaving the sealed-off city. 24 cases have been detected so far and the official quarantine period for the city is currently 30 days but could be extended.Tourism is Bethlehem's main industry. More than 30% of the working population is employed in the industry with many more reliant on visitors’ business in shops, cafes, taxis etc.

Tourism accounts for approximately 65% of the city's economy with around 2 million visitors last year. Most of the 5,000 hotel rooms in Bethlehem which were occupied with tourists until last week are now empty. Obviously this lockdown is having a huge impact already on the fragile economy of Bethlehem, with 76% of families assessed as living below the poverty line before this crisis who are now pushed beyond their margins of sustainability by sudden unemployment. Employment conditions for most in the industry are fragile, hand to mouth with no safety net of social support. We expect our office to be flooded with cases to support from those affected. The city is reported in the press to have become a ghost town because many people are afraid to leave their homes and there is concern that the closure of the city would lead to an “economic disaster” from which the economy will take a long time to recover especially as its timing coincides with the lead up to Holy Week and Easter, typically one of the busiest times of the year for the sector.

Our Bethlehem office reports a great sadness among the people and fear, they are isolated, feel under siege and are beginning to panic. “ We ask you to pray for Our Lord’s mercy” Despite these challenges our staff in Bethlehem stand ready to provide front line support to the most needy. We launch this special appeal to ask you to help us gear up our levels of emergency support to help those immediately affected by this lockdown - just £30 per week can put food on the table to feed a typical family whose breadwinner is now unemployed.