The closure of the Church of Nativity and other tourist sites in Bethlehem due to the coronavirus is expected to have a "disastrous" impact on the local economy, including many Christians who rely on tourism for a living, a faith group has said.
A church appeal has been launched to support locals through the financial turmoil brought on by the outbreak of coronavirus, which last week prompted the Palestinian Authority to declare a state of emergency.
Bethlehem had 25 cases of coronavirus as of Monday. In a bid to stem the spread of the deadly virus, all tourism and religious sites across the West Bank are closed. Tourists have also been banned for two weeks.
The appeal has been launched by Friends of the Holy Land in light of the lockdown.
"Whilst this precautionary action is understandable and reflects similar situations in other countries, the impact on the Bethlehem economy is expected to be disastrous, especially in the lead up to Easter one of the key tourism seasons for the city," it said.
Its Bethlehem office reported that the lockdown is already having a "devastating impact on the lives of most Christians in Bethlehem".
According to Friends of the Holy Land, tourism is Bethlehem's main industry, accounting for 30% of employment and 65% of its economy.
"Employment conditions for most in the industry are fragile, hand to mouth with no safety net of social support," it said.
The organisation is appealing for donations to provide food packages to families whose main breadwinners are now facing unemployment.
"We also ask you to pray for our brothers and sisters for their relief and recovery as in the reports we have already received from our office, there is a great deal of fear in Bethlehem whose residents have been isolated from the West Bank and the World; a difficult step for a multi-cultural society which is used to welcoming so many visitors," it said.