By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia will lift its lockdown in the capital Tbilisi and allow shops to reopen on Monday as part of a gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said.
He told a televised cabinet meeting on Thursday that a lockdown imposed in another large city, Rustavi, would be lifted on May 14. The country would reopen to foreign tourists from July 1, with domestic tourism resuming from June 15.
Tbilisi, Rustavi, Batumi and Kutaisi were locked down on April 15, with bans on vehicles entering or leaving. Batumi and Kutaisi were released last week.
Georgia still has a state of emergency until May 22, which includes a night curfew, the closure of restaurants, cafes and most shops, the suspension of public transport and a ban on gatherings of more than three people. Grocery stores, pharmacies and petrol stations remain open.
Gakharia said retail and wholesale stores, except those selling clothing and footwear, would reopen on May 11, provided they were not located in shopping malls.
The construction and automotive sectors were allowed to resume on May 5.
Georgia reported 615 cases of the coronavirus as of Thursday, with nine deaths.
Georgia should promote itself as a safe destination to attract tourists after restrictions are lifted, Economy Minister Natia Turnava said.
"The world knew us as a country with an ancient hospitality tradition, now the world should recognise us as a safe country destination," Turnava said.
Tourism in Georgia was booming but the coronavirus dealt a savage blow to an industry that attracted millions every year.
Five million tourists visited Georgia in 2019, 7% up from the previous year. International travel income was $3.3 billion last year and the sector's share in the country's gross domestic product was 11.5%.
Turnava said enterprises linked to tourism would be given income and property tax breaks, while a refund of value-added tax for companies would be doubled to 1.2 billion lari ($375 million).
Individuals and tourism-related companies will be permitted to defer interest on bank loans for four months, while self-employed workers in the sector and those forced to take unpaid leave would get financial aid from the state.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)