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Coronavirus

Vietnam on high alert as COVID outbreak hits Hanoi amid congress

Clutch of 93 cases detected, 80 of which linked to person infected with UK variant

A Vietnamese soldier stands guard near an image of communist leader Ho Chi Minh at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, the venue for the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Jan. 28, 2021. REUTERS/Kham   © Reuters

HANOI -- Hanoi authorities detected communal transmission of COVID-19 on Friday, putting the Vietnamese capital on high alert as the city is hosting the twice-a-decade National Congress, attended by nearly 1,600 Communist Party delegates.

The country also saw a spike of communally transmitted infections in a northern province. The government announced 93 confirmed cases, about 80 of which were linked to a person infected with the U.K. variant -- a highly transmissible strain that has also been discovered in Japan.

Hanoi is yet to confirm whether or not two cases detected in Hanoi are the U.K. variant. However, the infections prompted authorities to conduct precautionary tests on all delegates, diplomatic officials and press at the Communist Party congress. All tested negative, according to the authorities.

The outbreak is clouding the schedule of the country's major political event, which is set to elect the new leadership for the next five years. The congress is scheduled to wrap up on Tuesday but it could conclude earlier depending on the development of the infections.

The outbreak marks the first time in about two months that communal transmission has been detected in Vietnam.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told the congress on Friday that he would ensure the party congress would be a success, and he urged party executives from the affected areas to do their utmost to prevent the spread of the virus when they return, according to local media.

Authorities have been testing delegates at the venue of the National Congress. (Photo by Tomoya Onishi)

Among the new infection cases, around 80 are linked to a Vietnamese woman who works for a company based in the northern province of Hai Duong, located to the east of Hanoi. The woman, who is in her thirties, was confirmed to be infected with the U.K. variant when she arrived at Kansai Airport in Japan after departing from Hanoi on Jan. 17.

Government officials are investigating whether the cases in Vietnam are the U.K. variant.

Most of the remaining cases are in people who work at Van Don International Airport, which is located near Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh and is an arrival point for international flights.

Vietnam has continued to keep strict quarantine measures in place since early in the pandemic, and it has done well at controlling the spread of the virus compared to neighboring countries. The country's cumulative total number of cases is only 1,651. There have been no new cases of communal transmission since the discovery of a case in the southern commercial center of Ho Chi Minh City in early December.

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