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UPDATE 1-Vietnam to continue rice exports amid virus spread - food association

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By Khanh Vu

HANOI, March 24 (Reuters) - Vietnam will continue to export rice amid the spread of the coronavirus, the vice chairman of the country's food association said on Tuesday, countering earlier statements from local customs officials and media reports.

"I just received information from the top leader of the government about the continuation," Do Ha Nam, vice chairman of the Vietnam Food Association, told Reuters by phone.

Local customs officials and media reports citing a customs document earlier said the Southeast Asian country, the world's third largest rice exporter after India and Thailand, had halted shipments of the grain from Tuesday to ensure food security.

A Ministry of Industry and Trade spokeswoman said on Tuesday that "there has been no rice export ban".

In mid-February, Vietnam said all 16 of its confirmed coronavirus cases had recovered, but it has since been battling with an influx of imported cases from overseas visitors and Vietnamese citizens escaping outbreaks elsewhere.

There are now 123 cases in the country, but there have been no reported deaths, according to the health ministry. Over 50,000 people are in quarantine.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc earlier this month vowed to protect food security during the virus pandemic.

Rice exports from Vietnam rose 4.2% last year to 6.37 million tonnes. Nam said last month the country had expected to export 6.75 million tonnes of rice this year.

Vietnam's largest rice buyers include the Philippines, China and Africa. (Reporting by Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen; Editing by Louise Heavens and Jan Harvey)

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