Dear Friends and Supporters of Bethlehem University,
Greetings to all our supporters from this rather besieged town of Bethlehem. You have probably heard about what is happening here with the spread of coronavirus. I want to provide some more information about the way Bethlehem University is being impacted by this.
I arrived back the weekend before last from some time in New Zealand and Australia into an extraordinary week with all sorts of issues waiting for me and then others exploding during the course of the week.
On Thursday morning because of the spread of the coronavirus, we received a directive from the Palestinian Ministry of Health to close Bethlehem University for two weeks. So just before noon on Thursday I sent out a notice to say Bethlehem University is closed until further notice.
We have been preparing for this possibility and so some time ago all faculty members were asked to put their courses online. This means it will be possible over the time we are closed for faculty members to engage with their students and, hopefully, cover some of their coursework. When things return to normal we will decide what steps we need to take to ensure the coursework for the semester has been covered.
There are now twenty four confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Bethlehem. One of these is a student in our Hotel Management program who has been working at the Angel Hotel here in Beit Jala, right next to Bethlehem. A recent visitor in the hotel from Greece became sick and was confirmed with the virus when she returned to Greece. The Ministry of Health then had the people in the hotel who had contact with her quarantined and tested (some 32 people) and we found out on Thursday evening that our student was one of these and had tested positive. He was in class here the previous Monday, so we have been in touch with the teacher and students in that class and asked them to follow a procedure that has been set up.
On Thursday night the President of Palestine declared a state of emergency for the whole of Palestine for a month! This means closure of all educational institutions; complete cancellation of tourist reservations in all hotels; complete closure of all religious and touristic sites; cancellation of all local and international conferences and celebrations where large numbers of people would assemble. This will, of course, have huge implications for business, the tourist trade, for our semester etc. With the way things are unfolding in Israel, the same arrangements could be imposed there.
In addition, because of the confirmed cases here in Bethlehem, the Palestinian Authority, in conjunction with the Israelis, have locked down Bethlehem until further notice. This means no one can get in or get out of Bethlehem until both governments decide it is safe! This is life in Palestine at present!!
It is hard to know where this is going to head and how many other cases might emerge, so we are taking things a day at a time! We are taking precautions here at Bethlehem University and so in conjunction with the Municipality, and in line with the Ministry of Health directives, have had the whole campus disinfected. This means disinfecting inside and outside every building, so that when people return it should be a safe place for them.
Take care of yourself and be safe. Please keep us in your prayers.
Brother Peter Bray FSC, EdD