HANOI: Two million people in Vietnam will be put under a raft of restrictions starting Tuesday (Feb 16), after their northern province became the epicentre of a growing COVID-19 outbreak.
Residents of Hai Duong province have been ordered to stay at home for 15 days, state media reported, as a nation widely praised for its handling of the pandemic struggles to extinguish a troubling new outbreak.
Since late January, Vietnam has recorded 637 locally transmitted coronavirus cases, including 461 in Hai Duong province alone.
"People (in Hai Duong) are asked to stay at home and only go out when necessary, such as to buy food or medicine, or to work at factories or production establishments that are not being asked to close," said the official mouthpiece of Vietnam's health ministry, Suc Khoe Doi Song.
Gatherings of more than two people will be banned, while schools, bars, restaurants and karaoke parlours that were shut early ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday will remain closed.
When they must go outside their homes, residents are instructed to stay 2m from others.
Traffic through the province of two million will also be limited, state media reported, with only vehicles travelling on essential business allowed to enter.
In addition to the social distancing directive, Hai Duong authorities have asked that people quarantining at three centres in the province be relocated after infections recently began spreading at those sites, according to the government.
Vietnam's latest coronavirus outbreak - which began in the north and has since spread to central and southern areas - has been linked to new, more contagious variants of the deadly virus, including the UK and South Africa strains.
In response, containment measures have been stepped up and hundreds of thousands of people living in areas linked to cases have been ordered to stay at home.
But the country's most serious surge of cases yet is proving difficult to stamp out.
The capital Hanoi and the southern commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City both recently ordered schools closed until the end of February.
The communist nation has been lauded for mostly keeping a lid on its coronavirus outbreak through strict restrictions on movement, extensive quarantine measures and a robust track-and-trace regime.
As of Monday morning, Vietnam had tallied 2,229 coronavirus cases and 35 deaths across a population of 95 million.