By Daniela Desantis

ASUNCION (Reuters) – Paraguay will ease its coronavirus lockdown in May, replacing its currently tough sanctions with a “smart quarantine” after the South American country became one of the most successful in the region to stem the spread of the pandemic.

The country’s health minister Julio Mazzoleni said on Friday that activity, paralyzed since early March, would begin again in stages, and with what he called rotating shifts, though social distancing and hygiene measures would remain in place.

“The country is going to be divided by areas, we are going to have different phases in which different groups are going to join,” he said, adding though that other elements would remain tightly controlled.

“The borders will remain closed, classes will be done remotely and non-essential offices will continue to favor remote work. Mass public events will remain suspended,” he added.

The minister did not give an exact date for the shift.

Paraguay’s strict quarantine has left thousands of people without income and hit the country’s small economy hard.

The landlocked nation said on Thursday it had issued $1 billion in sovereign bonds to help finance the health emergency caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Paraguay has one of the best records dealing with coronavirus in the region, after moving quickly and aggressively to lock the country down.

The country has officially registered 220 confirmed coronavirus cases since the first registered on March 7. Nine people have died, most of them elderly or suffering from other diseases, while 70 so far have recovered.

(Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Andrea Ricci)