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Coronavirus curfew delays Vietnamese rice inspection in Iraq

* Iraq needs to import 250,000 tonnes of rice in coming months

* Iraq has food rationing programme for rice and other staples

* Vietnam, third largest exporter, curbed sales on Wednesday

BAGHDAD, March 28 (Reuters) - Iraq's trade ministry said late on Friday the inspection of a Vietnamese rice cargo in its waters had been delayed by measures to control the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The delay is the latest example of how the fight against the spread of the virus globally has backed up logistics chains.

"Because of the curfew and the difficulty for the inspection team to leave Baghdad, the grain board sent a team from Basra," Zoheir al-Jalabi, a trade ministry official said in a statement.

A nationwide curfew is in place until April 11, borders are shut and international flights are halted as part of efforts to control the spread of the disease.

Iraq's main commodities port of Umm Qasr is located near Basra.

Iraq has more than 450 coronavirus cases so far and around 40 deaths, but case numbers are likely to be far higher because testing facilities are limited in a country with a healthcare system that is already stretched.

The inspection team faced further delays due to difficulty sourcing protective gear, the statement said.

The ministry issued its statement after criticism from a member of parliament, Kadhim al-Hamami, on social media that the vessel had been waiting for 10 days for inspection at a time when the domestic market is in dire need for the rice to be distributed through Iraq's food rationing programme.

Hamami said the 30,000-tonne cargo had arrived on March 16.

Iraq, a major Middle Eastern wheat and rice importer, said on Wednesday it needed to import 250,000 tonnes of rice in the coming weeks to boost its strategic stocks and provide the staple product to its citizens.

The food programme, created in 1991 to combat U.N. economic sanctions, covers flour and rice as well as cooking oil and sugar.

Vietnam said on Wednesday it would restrict its rice sales abroad amid concerns over domestic availability. The world's third largest exporter of the grain said it would not sign any new rice export contracts until March 28 at the earliest as it checks whether it has sufficient domestic supplies to cope during the outbreak.

Several governments have contemplated restricting the flow of staple foods, with around a fifth of the world's population under lockdown to fight the widening coronavirus pandemic stoking global food security concerns. (Reporting by Moayed Kenany, Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Mark Potter)

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