JERUSALEM, Israel – The little town of Bethlehem will likely be much quieter than it usually is around Christmas time.
The Palestinian Health Ministry has recommended strict guidelines for Christmas celebrations this year due to presumed coronavirus pandemic.
Annual Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem usually include thousands of pilgrims, performances, and dazzling lights.
This year, the ministry recommends that the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Manger Square be limited to just 50 people, and the tree’s lights and nearby restaurants closed by 9 p.m.
The ministry also says Christmas Eve church services should also be limited.
Palestinian officials are expected to reach a decision later this week.
Tourism, especially around Christmas time, is critical to Bethlehem’s economy. Jesus’ birthplace is usually bustling with shops and restaurants.
Limiting Christmas celebrations presents a major threat to Bethlehem’s economy, which has already been crippled by the pandemic.
Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport has been closed to tourists for months due to the virus outbreak. Israel is slowly emerging from its second lockdown in months while Palestinian officials are battling a spike in COVID-19 cases.