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Medical specialists collect a blood specimen from a person who has returned from Danang at a rapid testing center outside Hanoi, Vietnam, on July 30, 2020.KHAM/Reuters

Vietnam began mass coronavirus testing in the capital Hanoi, banned gatherings in its economic hub and urged tens of thousands of domestic travellers to report to authorities on Thursday, as the country scrambled to contain its first outbreak in 100 days.

Text messages were sent to all cellphones used by the country’s 95 million people urging anyone who visited the popular coastal city of Da Nang in July to come forward, after a new wave of the virus spread to six cities and provinces in as many days, with 47 positive cases.

Hanoi’s ruling body started the testing of some 21,063 residents who recently returned from Da Nang, a central holiday getaway that has been a big draw for domestic travellers since restrictions were eased.

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The southern commercial centre Ho Chi Minh City followed Hanoi on Thursday in shutting entertainment venues and banning gatherings after two people tested positive among 18,000 residents who were recently in Da Nang.

The latest response is in line with a centralized quarantine program and aggressive testing and contact-tracing system that saw Vietnam lauded for keeping its coronavirus tally to just 464 cases since late January, with no fatalities.

By comparison, neighbouring Philippines on Thursday reported nearly 4,000 new cases in a single day.

Fourteen new Vietnamese cases were confirmed on Thursday, all but one in Da Nang or nearby Quang Nam province, home to the old city of Hoi An, another popular tourist site.

A strict lockdown has been imposed in Da Nang and passenger flights halted for 15 days.

RACE AGAINST TIME

Hanoi moved fast to try to prevent a contagion, setting a deadline of Saturday to test anyone who visited Da Nang recently.

“We have to use full force to test all 21,063 returnees,” city chairman Nguyen Duc Chung said.

“All must be done in three days.”

Da Nang has been inundated with visitors taking advantage of promotions to revitalize a tourism sector hurt by border closures and international flight bans designed to keep the virus out.

The current wave is traced to Da Nang, but the source is unclear.

One case, an American, showed symptoms as far back as mid-June, suggesting the virus may have quietly spread in Da Nang for several weeks.

Some experts say Vietnam could be paying for complacency after stopping the spread, with normal service quickly resuming, face masks used less and domestic travel activity surging.

Local scientists believe the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more infectious than the strain found earlier in the country.

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