Eswatini reported its first COVID-19 case on March 14, 2020 and cases have been rising rapidly since then. In response, on March 17, the government declared a national state of emergency, and implemented containment measures, including suspension of private and public gatherings of 20 people or more, schools closures, suspension of non-essential travel within cities for all citizens, closure of borders to all but goods, cargo, returning citizens, and legal residents, and mandatory self-isolation for residents/citizens coming from abroad. On March 27, a partial lockdown went into effect, and a month later the Manzini region, where a third of the population resides, went into full lockdown. The authorities in collaboration with the WHO have built domestic detection capacity. Economic activity was affected by the closure of some ports of entry with South Africa and weak demand, registering a contraction of 9.1 percent in 2020Q2. The exchange rate against the USD which depreciated significantly in early 2020 had largely recovered to the pre-crisis level by the year end. On July 29, the IMF Executive Board approved US$110.4 million in emergency financial assistance under the Rapid Financing Instrument to support authorities’ efforts in addressing the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. On November 19, the World Bank has approved a US$40 million loan to support the economic recovery in the country.
Reopening of the economy. Since May 8, 2020, the government began the process of easing the initial partial lockdown by allowing some businesses to operate. The national emergency was further extended until November 19. Schools reopened since July 6 in the completing classes, while other class levels remained closed until March 29, 2021, while the government issued guidelines allowing for religious and social gatherings under strict conditions. More businesses were allowed to operate under established WHO and health guidelines since July 13. On September 30, the government lifted restrictions on international travel, requiring international travelers to present a negative COVID-19 certificate taken within 72 hours of travel, and discouraging non-essential travel. The ban on the production and sale of alcohol was initially lifted on October 26, but was again reinstated from January 21 until March 22, 2021. Due to rapidly increasing COVID-19 infections in mid-December 2020, the government implemented a 10 week partial lockdown and curfew starting on January 8, 2021. International travel is allowed only for medical attention, schooling, work, and business purposes and hours of operations for retailers have been restricted. On April 23, 2021, restrictions on serving alcohol were loosened for restaurants, while hours of operation were extended for retailers and restaurants alike.
Eswatini received 32,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses in mid-March through the COVAX Facility (12,000 doses) and the Serum Institute of India (SII) (20,000 doses) donated by the Government of India. The COVID-19 vaccination campaign was launched on March 19, 2021, with vaccines administered to essential workers and leading politicians, before expanding it to include the general elderly population starting on March 30, 2021. The government has urged all citizens 18 years and above to pre-register in anticipation of expanding vaccine supplies. The next COVAX delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines and a 500,000-dose donation from Oxford University/AstraZeneca are expected in mid-June 2021.
Vaccines from the COVAX facility will ultimately cover 20 percent of the population. Government has further ordered 2 million doses from the Serum Institute of India expected to arrive in 2021Q2 – though the status of this delivery is unclear given the Indian Government's current restrictions on vaccine exports due to the COVID-19 outbreak in India – and 237,328 doses from the AU, expected to arrive in 2021Q3. Combined with the supply from the COVAX facility, these vaccines will cover 35 percent of the population, with the rest to be purchased directly from the manufacturers using the Government's E200 million allocation for the procurement of the vaccines, in addition to donations from the Kirsh Foundation ($15.8 million) and the Government of Taiwan ($1.5 million). Moreover, on April 16, 2021, the World Bank Board approved about E72 million (US$5 million) additional financing from the International Development Association (IDA) to provide Eswatini with safe and effective vaccine purchase and deployment. In sum, these should provide enough vaccines to cover the Eswatini population, who have demonstrated substantial demand for the vaccines since the start of the vaccination rollout. The Eswatini National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (ESWANITAG) was appointed to provide scientific recommendations during the introduction of new vaccines and the implementation of immunization strategies.