Coronavirus dampens Christmas joy in Bethlehem and elsewhere

The restrictions limited attendance to dozens of residents and a small entourage of religious officials. Evening celebrations, when pilgrims normally congregate around the Christmas tree, were canceled, and Midnight Mass celebrations were limited to clergy. The 85-year-old Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, who usually attends the solemn occasion, said he would not participate.

The coronavirus has dealt a heavy blow to Bethlehem’s tourism sector, the lifeblood of the local economy. Restaurants, hotels and gift shops have been shuttered.

“The atmosphere of the Christmas celebrations is so beautiful in Bethlehem,” said Balqees Qumsieh, a Bethlehem resident. “This year everything will be different.”

Elsewhere, there was little holiday cheer for tourism-dependent Thailand, as the country grapples with an unexpected spike in virus cases, despite strict border controls that have effectively blocked travelers from entering the kingdom.

The Christmas and New Year’s holidays are typically peak season for the tropical country’s hotels, restaurants, bars and often naughtier-than-nice entertainment venues. Many of those businesses have decided it’s not even worth opening or have gone out of business.

Shopping malls that cater heavily to foreign tourists are putting on a brave face, erecting towering artificial Christmas trees. Some hotels that remained

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