Covid-19, Bethlehem’s Basilica of the Nativity reopens. Fewer restrictions in Iran and Saudi Arabia

Starting today, the Christian leaders announce the green light to entrances, for a maximum of 50 people. Respect for social distance and the obligation to wear personal protective equipment are fundamental. In the Islamic Republic, Shiite mosques and shrines reopen. Gradual easing also for the Saudis, who set the end of the lockdown on 21 June.


Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - Following the "evolution of the situation" in the Holy Land, the heads of the three Christian communities have announced the reopening of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It was closed over two months ago due to the pandemic again coronavirus.

In a joint note, the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilus III, the Custos of the Holy Land Francesco Patton and the Armenian patriarch Nourhan Manougian stressed that "the holy place will be accessible again to the faithful for visits and prayers".

For security reasons, the press release continues, and to prevent new outbreaks of Covid-19 "in the first phase, access will be limited" to 50 people at a time and the basilica will be accessible only to those who have no fever and have no flu symptoms. There is also an obligation to wear personal protection measures, including masks, and to maintain a safety distance of at least two meters.

Finally, it is forbidden to touch or kiss stones or religious symbols, in addition to staff working inside.

The Palestinian government has also ordered a general easing of the restrictive measures that have been in place for two months in the West Bank and Gaza. From today shops and commercial activities are back in operation, while tomorrow - at the end of the Eid al-Fitr festival - it will be the turn of state employees.

The reopening, as anticipated, will also involve mosques, churches, public parks and transportation. The green light has also been given to cafes and restaurants, with restrictions that will be illustrated in the coming days. The general invitation of the Palestinian authorities is and remains that of "caution".

Yesterday, some of the most important places of worship also reopened in Iran, including the main Shiite shrines, throughout the national territory. At the shrine of Shah Abdol-Azim, the faithful were able to enter by wearing masks and passing through a tunnel for disinfection; some employees measured people’s temperature at the entrances.

Iranian state television broadcast images of people in tears running towards the publicly accessible sanctuary of Imam Reza. The government ordered the closure of schools, universities and all non-essential activities in March, after having registered the first victims of a new coronavirus at the end of February in Qom. For a long time, the Islamic Republic was Middle Eastern nation with the most cases.

In Saudi Arabia, the easing of restrictions should start in the next few days and develop in three phases, which will culminate with the end of the curfew - with the exception of Mecca, where it will remain in force - starting from June 21.

At the same time, the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages are suspended, pending further instructions from local authorities. The first step will be the reduction, starting from May 28, of the curfew which will no longer be more than 24 hours, but will begin at 3 in the afternoon and end at 6 in the morning. The green light will also be given to travel between regions and for some commercial activities. From Sunday 30 May the curfew will begin at 8 pm and internal flights will restart. Places of worship are also accessible to the faithful, while respecting social distancing and personal hygiene measures.

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