By Khanh Vu and James Pearson
HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam has shut schools in 22 provinces ahead of the Lunar New Year "Tet" holiday and ended a ruling Communist Party congress early on Monday following the detection of a new cluster of coronavirus cases in northern areas last week.
Thanks to targeted mass testing and strict quarantining, Vietnam has kept its tally to a low 1,850 cases and 35 deaths, winning plaudits worldwide for one of the most successful national responses to the pandemic.
"We'll have a difficult and special Tet ahead, but I'm sure we all will overcome this together," said Vu Duc Dam, the country's coronavirus taskforce chief, according to state media.
The school closures affect more than a third of Vietnam's provinces and cities.
Most of the new cases have been recorded in Hai Duong, where 2,340 factory workers have been isolated after a Vietnamese employee came into contact with a person who tested positive for the more contagious B.1.1.7 British variant of the disease in Japan in mid-January.
'BASICALLY UNDER CONTROL'
The outbreak first reported on Thursday has spread to at least nine cities and provinces. On Monday, the health ministry reported 33 more cases, most in the capital Hanoi.
Long told state media the ministry would support Hanoi to upgrade its capacity to 40,000 tests per day.
On Friday, Vietnam's health minister said the outbreak was "basically under control" in the most affected areas.
On Saturday, his deputy said officials would try to contain the outbreak by Feb. 6, ahead of the Tet holiday, which begins on Feb. 10.
The ruling Communist Party, which on Saturday re-selected its party chief Nguyen Phu Trong to serve for a rare third term, cut short a five-yearly congress by one day amid the outbreak.
If the current outbreak is contained, it will be the fourth time the Southeast Asian country has successfully fought back against the virus, and brought it under control.
Vietnam's success in curbing the coronavirus so far, while its Southeast Asia neighbours struggle, is helping the country power ahead in economic growth and attracting funds, foreign investors, analysts say.
(Additional reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Editing by Louise Heavens and Andrew Cawthorne)