The Covid-19 lockdown, which has seen local fuel refineries reduce output, has led to shortages in neighbouring Botswana, which has not been able to receive normal deliveries since the easing of the national shutdown.

The landlocked country, which relies largely on South Africa for its fuel imports, has faced severe supply constraints over the past two weeks. The shortages have resulted in panic buying among some consumers, prompting the government to tap into its strategic reserves and source fuel from alternative suppliers in the region such as Namibia and Mozambique.

The sparsely populated nation of 2.4 million inhabitants has registered low Covid-19 infection rates, with only 314 cases of the virus identified and a single death. But the knock-on effect of the virus in SA has nevertheless been harsh.

“We have not received the normal supply of fuel from South Africa and that has caused supply challenges from the retailers. The situation has not stabilised and we had to make use of our strategic reserves,” said Mmetla Masire Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mineral Resources.

“We are now receiving about a third of our normal supply,” he said adding that it was not clear when the situation might ease.

The country normally keep 12 days of supply in the strategic reserves.

Masire suggested the supply constraint was due to refineries not producing at full capacity due to the lockdown, which slashed output. He added the country requires about 3 million litres of fuel a day.

Adding to the fuel supply constraints are bottlenecks at Botswana’s ports of entry, where truck drivers transporting fuel are subjected to mandatory 14 day Covid-19 quarantine before entering the country. There have also been disruptions on the South African roads as local truck drivers protested against the increasing employment of foreign drivers in the sector.

These protests have seen trucks in parts of the country torched.

The shortages could be deal a major setback to Botswana’s economy. Due to the impact of Covid-19 and a slowdown in the diamond market, it’s biggest export, the IMF has forecast that Botswana’s GDP will fall by 5.4% in 2020, before picking up by 6.8% in 2021.

Residents in Botswana who are fearing that the scarcity are stockpiling fuel despite government’s warning against mass buying. Sasol, meanwhile, said it had met its commitments to fuel traders in Botswana who in turn distribute the product to the market.