14 Americans Stuck in Palestinian Hotel Due to Coronavirus

March 5, 2020
The Hotel Angel in Beit Jala, just west of Bethlehem, is shown on Thursday evening. Dozens of people, including 14 American guests, were locked inside after seven cases of coronavirus were diagnosed there earlier in the day. (Photo by Media Line)

THE MEDIA LINE — At least 40 people have been quarantined against their will in a Palestinian hotel near Bethlehem, in the West Bank, due to an outbreak of coronavirus. They include 14 American citizens, as well as about 25 Palestinian guests and employees.

The Angel Hotel, in mostly Christian Beit Jala, just west of the city where Jesus is said to have been born, is where seven people were discovered to have the virus, making them the first known cases in the Palestinian Authority, a matter made public on Thursday morning.

“My staff and I are inside the hotel,” Maryana al-Arja, the manager, told The Media Line.

“The Americans left the hotel this morning, but the Palestinian Tourism Police brought them back because they could not secure [another lodging] place” in the Bethlehem area, she said. “The seven people who are infected or suspected of being infected are inside the hotel.”

She says that all the hotel guests are in private rooms and that PA health officials are present to make arrangements for transporting them to medical care.

“The American [guests] are aware of the situation and are in contact with their country’s embassy,” Arja continued. “Israeli authorities have asked that the Americans be quarantined for 14 days before being admitted to Israel. So far, no samples have been taken from the Americans. We call on health officials to inform us of their plan.”

The Israeli Defense Ministry ordered an end to crossings from the area until further notice.

There are currently 17 known cases of coronavirus in Israel, where harsh measures have been imposed in an effort to stop the spread.

Foreign nationals arriving from several hard-hit countries in Asia and Europe are being denied entry to Israel, while Israelis returning from those nations are immediately being sent to quarantine. So far, it is estimated that close to 100,000 people in Israel are in self-enforced quarantine.

One source at the hotel in Beit Jala told The Media Line by phone that there was a “state of panic, disorder and fear” because of a lack of information.

“No one from the [PA Health Ministry has been in touch with us; we are getting information from social media [although] the information on social media is not credible and people are worried,” the source stated.

Another person there told The Media Line that on more than one occasion, he had to warn people entering the hotel to stay away. He added that a PA police unit positioned across the street made no effort to stop people from entering the facility.

“The location is not sealed off properly,” another source at the hotel told The Media Line.

“Earlier, someone walked in to meet a friend inside the hotel who is under quarantine, How was he able to walk into the hotel without being stopped?” the source continued. “No medical supplies like face masks have been brought to us. No food has been brought to us. There are 40 people here. We were told to isolate the seven people suspected of having coronavirus in rooms by themselves. If one of us leaves the hotel, we will contaminate the entire city.”

The Media Line was able to reach Mohammad Awawdeh, a PA Health Ministry spokesman, who said the ministry was “working rapidly and as fast as it can to test everyone and provide clear answers.” Another ministry spokesman, Dr. Dhareef Ashour, issued a statement on Thursday evening that was bitterly critical of people discussing the issue on social media platforms.

“We have now on social media four million Palestinian journalists, each with their own agenda and criticism on how to manage the crisis,” Ashour said.

The PA has begun spreading disinfectant throughout Bethlehem’s Manger Square and has reportedly closed the Church of the Nativity until further notice.

The PA has also designated the Istiqlal University campus in Jericho as a quarantine location, something that has riled local residents, with dozens said to have rioted in the streets, closing off the main entrances to the city just north of the Dead Sea.

Organizers, understood by The Media Line to be from the mainstream Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, are demanding that people confirmed to have coronavirus remain where they were diagnosed.

One of the rioters told The Media Line: “It’s the responsibility of the Health Ministry to secure a safe location for each case because transporting them presents a danger to the health of other residents.”

Abbas has declared a month-long state of emergency in all the Palestinian territories because of coronavirus.

A source in Ramallah told The Media Line that the Palestinian leadership was furious with the governor of Bethlehem for the way he has been managing the situation.

“The president [Abbas] is considering relieving the governor of his duty,” the source said.

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