A relatively few number of Muslims pray around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, March 5, 2020. Saudi Arabia's Deputy Health Minister Abdel-Fattah Mashat was quoted on the state-linked news site Al-Yaum saying that groups of visitors to Mecca from inside the country would now also be barred from performing the pilgrimage, known as the umrah. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Palestinians say Nativity church closed amid virus fears

March 05, 2020 - 5:36 am

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A spokesman for the Palestinian tourism ministry said Thursday that the storied Nativity Church in the biblical city of Bethlehem will close indefinitely later in the day over coronavirus fears.

Jeres Qumsiyeh said the church, built atop the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, will close at 4 p.m. Thursday after being disinfected.

“We have informed that the Nativity Church will be closed today at 4 p.m. until further notice,” he said.

The church is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors and worshipers for the upcoming Easter holiday next month.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s health minister on Thursday encouraged the public to reduce its use of paper money as it is aiding the spread of the new coronavirus, and said authorities will begin manning checkpoints to limit travel between major cities in the Islamic Republic.

Saeed Namaki made the announcement at a televised news conference. He added that schools and universities will remain closed through Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on March 20.

He said people should stay in their vehicles at gas stations and allow attendants to fill their gas tanks to avoid the spread of the virus.

There are now over 3,150 cases of the virus across the Mideast. Of those outside Iran in the region, most link back to the Islamic Republic. There, authorities say the virus has killed at least 92 people amid 2,922 confirmed cases. Iran and Italy have the world’s highest death tolls outside of China.

Earlier Thursday, the United Arab Emirates warned its citizens and its foreign residents not to travel anywhere abroad amid the ongoing worldwide coronavirus outbreak, a stark warning for a country home to two major long-haul airlines.

The country's Health and Community Protection Ministry warning comes as its capital, Abu Dhabi, sent 215 foreigners it evacuated from hard-hit Hubei in China to a quarantine set up in its Emirates Humanitarian City. They include citizens of Egypt, Sudan and Yemen.

Health officials warned that those traveling abroad could face quarantine themselves at the discretion of authorities. The UAE is home to some 9 million people, with only about 1 million estimated to be Emirati citizens.

The UAE is home to Emirates, the government-owned airline based at Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel. Abu Dhabi also is home to Etihad, the country's national carrier. Both airlines have encouraged staff to take time off as international travel has dropped due to the virus.

The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted Islamic worship in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia on Wednesday banned its citizens and other residents of the kingdom from performing the pilgrimage in Mecca, while Iran canceled Friday prayers in major cities.

AP Editorial Categories: 
Comments ()