Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity reopens

The church had been closed since March 5, when an outbreak of Covid-19 was reported

Christians walk towards the Church of the Nativity that reopened Tuesday to visitors after a nearly three-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, in Bethlehem, West Bank, Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
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Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, built on the place where Christians believe Jesus was born, reopened on Tuesday more than two months after closing as a coronavirus precaution.

A handful of priests from Christian denominations stood watch as the door to the church in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was opened.

Once inside, Bishop Theophylactos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem, kissed an icon, while a priest sprayed holy water in the grotto of the church, where Christians believe Christ was born and laid in a manger.

The church had been closed since March 5, when an outbreak of Covid-19 was reported in Bethlehem.

Initially only 50 people will be allowed in the church at a time and visitors must wear face coverings and observe social distancing, a joint statement from the churches that control the site said.

Kissing or touching the stones, including in the grotto, will be forbidden.

The Bethlehem outbreak began with a group of Greek tourists who visited the city, including the Church of the Nativity, prompting church authorities to sterilise the site.

The Palestinian government swiftly took measures to prevent the spread of the disease and in recent weeks few new cases have been reported in the West Bank.

On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced an end to the lockdown.

Separately, in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the place most Christians believe Jesus was crucified and then resurrected, has partially reopened.

The main door to the church remained closed to prevent overcrowding, but groups of worshippers can enter in coordination with the Christian denominations that control the site, a church official said.