GABORONE, May 20 (Reuters) - Botswana will end a 48-day lockdown at midnight on Wednesday, allowing all businesses and schools to reopen under strict conditions as it tries to restart an economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The diamond-rich Southern African country has been gradually easing restrictions for the past two weeks with only selected economic sectors such as mines allowed to operate.
“All lockdown restrictions will be lifted effective midnight, with only those moving across the designated zones requiring permits to travel,” COVID-19 Task Force Coordinator Dr Kereng Masupu said in a televised briefing.
“Depending on the coronavirus disease pattern, a return to lockdown will remain an option.”
Stringent conditions have been set for businesses and schools wishing to reopen such as checking of body temperatures, regular disinfection and wearing of masks.
Returning citizens and residents will undergo mandatory quarantine while the ban of foreign visitors remains in place.
Botswana has a relatively low number of COVID-19 infections with 29 cases recorded. One person has been killed by the virus.
But the economy has been severely impacted by the outbreak with real GDP estimated to contract by 13% in 2020 while the budget deficit is now seen more than doubling.
Botswana has been unable to sell its diamonds for the past three months as buyers from diamond cutting and polishing centres, who visit the country as often as 10 times annually, have been unable to enter the country to do business due to restrictions on travel globally.
In response, the government has set aside a 5 billion pula ($413.00 million) fiscal stimulus to cushion the impact of the outbreak while the central bank has cut interest rates and halved the primary Reserve Requirements (PRR) for commercial banks in a bid to improve liquidity in the banking system. ($1 = 12.1065 pulas) (Reporting by Brian Benza Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)