(Updates with details, statement by health minister)
HANOI, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Vietnam will receive 60 millionCOVID-19 vaccines this year, including 30 million under theWHO-led COVAX scheme, the health minister said on Friday as theSoutheast Asian country battles its biggest virus outbreak sincethe pandemic began.
Vietnam has been one of the world's virus-mitigation successstories, thanks to targeted mass testing and strictquarantining. Its total number of cases since the coronaviruswas first detected in the country over a year ago stands at2,347, including imported cases, with 35 deaths.
But the new outbreak of the more contagious UK variant ofthe disease detected in the northern province of Hai Duong lastmonth is Vietnam's biggest pandemic challenge yet, healthminister Nguyen Thanh Long told a COVID-19 taskforce meeting.
"This wave's virus variant is 70% more transmissible. If wecan't keep up with testing amid this spike in cases, we can'tcontain the outbreak," Long said, according to a post on hisministry's website.
"Testing is the key to fight the virus".
Vietnam has recorded 755 infections since the beginning ofthe current outbreak, accounting for a third of the country'stotal cases since the start of the pandemic.
Long said Vietnam's current COVID-19 battle was not likelyto end in the first six months of this year, and could continuethroughout 2021.
Most of the 30 million COVAX vaccines would be used in thesecond half of this year, Long said. Earlier this month, thegovernment said Vietnam would get access to the first batch ofCOVAX vaccines within the first quarter.
The government previously said Vietnam would only receivebetween 4.89 million and 8.25 million doses under the COVAXscheme.
In January, Vietnam said it had agreed to separately buy 30million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The governmentsaid the first batch of 204,000 doses would arrive on Feb. 28,while a home-grown vaccine would likely be available fordomestic inoculation by May.
Long said areas currently suffering from outbreaks would beprioritised for inoculation, and urged private companies tosupport health ministry efforts to bring the vaccine to Vietnam.(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen and Khanh VuEditing by James Pearson and Ed Davies)