Jerusalem, May 26 (IANS) Bethlehems Church of the Nativity reopened its doors on Tuesday after being closed for almost three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The sacred building, widely considered to be the cradle of Christianity, welcomed worshippers again along with other churches and mosques as part of the West Bank's lockdown de-escalation, reports Efe news.
"Following the evolvement of the situation in the Holy Land, we wish to inform that the celebrations of the communities, the Greek Orthodox, the Latin and the Armenian will continue regularly, even though for safety reasons and in order to avoid the risk of the diffusion of the COVID-19 infection, the number of participants in the celebrations will be limited to few persons and the basilica will be accessible during the liturgies only," the custodians of the church said in a statement.
Worshippers will be required to wear masks and access will only be granted to those who do not have fever or other symptoms of the virus.
There can only be a maximum of 50 people inside the church and the faithful must maintain a distance of at least two metres between each other and avoid any act of devotion that includes physical contact, such as touching and kissing stones, icons, vestments or staff in the basilica.
The custodians added that prayers will continue inside the basilica for "the end of the pandemic, the recovery of the sick, the protection of the medical personnel, the wisdom for the pastors and the governors and the eternal salvation to those who lost their lives".
The Christian temple closed its doors on March 5 after a group of Greek tourists who had visited the site were confirmed to have the disease.
Bethlehem was the first Palestinian city to register an outbreak of the virus, which led to the closure of places of worship and schools before the whole city was put into lockdown.
The reopening of the basilica came after the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem welcomed faithful again on Sunday after two months of closure.
These two sites are of great importance for Christian pilgrims, thousands of whom travel to the Holy Land every year.
It came as part of the beginning of a gradual de-escalation in the occupied West Bank, which was announced on Monday by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.
The region has reported a low rate of COVID-19 infections with no new cases detected in the last 24 hours.
Establishments such as shops, businesses, churches and mosques reopened on Tuesday while restrictions on travel between West Bank provinces were also lifted.
Other premises such as cafes and restaurants are due to open their doors on Wednesday.
Less than 600 cases have been detected in the Palestinian territories, most of them in the West Bank, as well as five deaths.