On 6th March the Archbishop in Jerusalem sent a letter to his Diocesan Clergy and institutional Leaders outlining the guidelines during the current coronavirus epidemic. Full letter available below.
The guidelines for services closely follow the Church of England guidelines with the suspension of a physical exchanging of the peace, replacing it with a verbal one and recommendations for non-contact greetings. His letter also outlines direction for diocesan run institutions recommending no outside visitors to them and the cancellation of trips and events in schools which have not yet been closed by the government.
The diocesan guesthouses remain open at this time but with additional vigilance regarding health and sanitation and access only for guests and staff.
Since his letter several of the schools and institutions have been closed as a precaution including St George's School in Jerusalem.
The government has completely sealed off Bethlehem impacting Diocesan employees who cannot leave the city and in Palestine all schools, restaurants and coffee houses have been closed which will have grave repercussions on their fragile economy.
The closing of Bethlehem and the government's policy of a 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving from a country where COVID-19 has been reported has significantly impacted the pilgrimage economy.
In a letter to international partners, Archbishop Suheil Dawani wrote of impact on life in the country
The dwindling number of pilgrims has already placed a huge burden on poorer families. This is especially the case for those living in the Bethlehem area, whose economy is largely dependent upon the pilgrim ministry, which has ground to a halt: The Church of the Nativity is closed, hostels are empty, and the normally busy market streets are now barren.
And the Dean of St George's College posted this message on Facebook on 11th March 2020
‘Our friends may have seen that Israel has imposed a fourteen day quarantine on all arrivals in Israel. Sadly this has already resulted in the cancellation of two of our study pilgrimages and may well necessitate further cancellations. We are not making any decisions about courses beyond April at this point. It’s a worrying time for all of us as it is for many others facing challenging times during this epidemic around the world. The pilgrim and tourist business is facing something of a crisis throughout our nations.
Bethlehem is facing even more severe restrictions introduced by the Palestinian Authority due to infection cases clustering there. It is not possible to visit the holy places in the West Bank at all.
Please do pray for us and for all the peoples of these lands. We hold on to the grace and peace of the God of all love. We seek to rest in the Lord’s compassion.’
According to Worldometers figures on the spread of Covid-19 Israel is reporting 126 cases (@13/3/2020), with 17 confirmed in the last 24 hours, whilst Palestine is reported at 35 with the latest 4 new cases.