The American shepherd tells how the journey of Bethlehem turned into a coronavirus quarantine ordeal

BEIT JALAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Thirteen Americans suspected of being exposed to coronavirus during a trip to the Holy Land are in quarantine near Bethlehem and are coordinating with the U.S. and Palestinian authorities to try to return home.

“It would have been the trip of a lifetime,” said Chris Bell, 42, chief pastor of 3Circle Church in Fairhope, Alabama, in a video chat with Reuters from the second floor of the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala, which is close to Bethlehem.

“The 13 of us would be what I would call a community of faith,” said Bell.

“What we are doing is encouraging each other every day, we are reminding each other that we love each other. We are reminding each other that we trust God and that he has a plan for this,” he said.

His church works with a school in Bethlehem, part of the reason for their visit to the Holy Land, he said.

The Angel Hotel was the first area of ​​concern for the coronavirus in the Bethlehem area. After some of its workers tested positive this week, the Palestinian Authority placed restrictions on travel for foreign tourists and subsequently declared a 30-day state of emergency.

The measures effectively closed the city, including the Church of the Nativity, believed to be Jesus’ hometown and local mosques.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Palestinian security forces have manned blockades and alienated foreigners, while schools, colleges, kindergartens and national parks have been closed.

A man in a protective suit walks outside the Angel Hotel where, according to a Palestinian government official, a group of American visitors have been quarantined as part of the precautions against coronavirus, in the city of Beit Jala in the West Bank occupied by Israel on 7 March 2020 REUTERS / Mussa Qawasma

“We have to go home”

Things “went wrong” for the group from Alabama on Tuesday when they learned they had shared the hotel with a Greek tourist who apparently wore coronavirus, said pastor Bell.

They left for a trip the next morning, but were called back to the hotel the next day and said they were going to quarantine.

He said they were waiting for the test results and expected to be quarantined for 14 days, which means there are still nine left.

The group did not leave the hotel floor and everyone wears gloves and masks when they leave their rooms, the pastor said, adding that his wife Nan was with him and that their three children in the United States were followed by friends and family. .

He thanked Palestinian, Israeli and US officials who were taking care of their care and said the hotel had made sure they had enough food, water and medicine.

“Although we will need to be quarantined, we hope that the United States, our country, can bring us home,” he said. “And if they need to quarantine us there for a while, we understand it. But, you know, we have to go home, “he said.

According to the hotel owner, more than 40 workers and visitors were isolated in the building.

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Palestinian security forces wearing masks and gloves have been stationed in the hotel on Saturday, as they have been since the first cases were announced

An official from the American Embassy in Jerusalem said he was aware of the group’s quarantine reports. “For privacy reasons, we have no further details to share,” he said.

Reporting by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh in Beit Jala, Suheir Sheikh, Stephen Farrell and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Andrew Heavens and David Clarke

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