Vietnam has discovered a new variant of Covid-19 that is a hybrid of the Indian and UK strains, health officials confirmed on Saturday.
Scientists in Vietnam examined the genetic makeup of the virus that had infected recent patients and found the new variant, according to health minister Nguyen Thanh Long.
Long, who is a doctor, said laboratory tests suggest that the new strain, which is a combination of the Indian and British variants, may spread more easily by air than other versions of the virus.
'We have discovered a new hybrid variant from the Indian and the UK strains,' Long told a national meeting on the pandemic on Saturday, according to state media.
The new variant detected in Vietnam is a mix of the coronavirus strains first detected in the United Kingdom and India, the country’s health minister said https://t.co/5aHDR57f01— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) May 29, 2021
'The characteristic of this strain is that it spreads quickly in the air. The concentration of virus in the throat fluid increases rapidly and spreads very strongly to the surrounding environment.'
The health minister said the new variant could be responsible for a recent surge in Covid cases across Vietnam, which has now spread to 30 of the country's 63 municipalities and provinces.
He did not specify the number of cases that have been recorded with the new variant, but said Vietnam will soon announce the discovery in the world's map of genetic strains.
While Vietnam's Central Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology said on Saturday that its scientists had detected gene mutations in four out of 32 patient samples through gene sequencing.
The World Health Organisation has already listed four global 'variants of concern', with the first two being found in the UK and India, plus ones identified in South Africa and Brazil.
Viruses often develop small genetic changes as they reproduce, while new variants of Covid have been found ever since it was first detected in China in late 2019.
There were seven known coronavirus variants in Vietnam before Long's announcement, according to the Ministry of Health.
The communist country is struggling to deal with fresh outbreaks across more than half of its territory, including industrial zones such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam has previously received widespread applause for its aggressive pandemic response, with mass quarantines and strict contact tracing helping keep infection rates relatively low.
In early May, the country had impressively recorded just over 3,100 confirmed cases and 35 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
But in the last few weeks, Vietnam has confirmed more than 3,500 new cases and 12 deaths, increasing the country's total death toll to 47.
The new round of infections has made the public and government fearful and authorities have quickly moved to place strict limits on movement and business activity.
Vietnam, a country of 97million people, has vaccinated one million people with AstraZeneca shots and it sealed a deal with Pfizer last week for 30million doses, which are set to be delivered in the third and fourth quarters of this year.
The country is also currently in talks with Moderna, which would give Vietnam enough shots to fully vaccine 80 per cent of its 96 million people.
Authorities have called on people and businesses to donate money to help procure vaccines, while embassies and international organisations have been contacted for assistance, state media reported.
State media also reported that Vietnam is in discussions with Russia to produce Sputnik V, and is working on a home-grown vaccine.
Most of the country's new Covid-19 cases were found in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, provinces where hundreds of thousands of people work for major companies including Samsung and Canon.
Welp—“Vietnam has uncovered a new Covid-19 variant combining characteristics of the two existing variants first found in India🇮🇳(#B16172) & UK🇬🇧(#B117)” 🇻🇳 Health Minister said. “The new variant is very dangerous” and “spreads quickly by air”. #COVID19 🧵https://t.co/46iOLGinSb pic.twitter.com/PSwRUqATE6— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) May 29, 2021
Despite strict health regulations being in place, a company in Bac Giang discovered that one fifth of its 4,800 workers had tested positive for the virus.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the country's largest metropolis which is home to 9million, at least 85 people have tested positive as part of a cluster at a Protestant church, the Health Ministry said.
Worshippers were said to have sung and chanted while sitting close together, without wearing proper masks or taking other precautions.
Vietnam has since ordered a nationwide ban on all religious events. In major cities, authorities have banned large gatherings, closed public parks and non-essential business including in-person restaurants, bars, clubs and spas.
In nearby Thailand, the government on Saturday took exception to media reports in Britain that labelled a new strain causing concern there as the 'Thai variant'.
The strain was first detected in Thailand in a 33-year-old Egyptian traveller, UK health authorities said, but 109 cases have since been found in Britain.
'Principally speaking, it should not be called the Thai variant because the infected person is from overseas,' said Opas Kankawinpong, head of Thailand's disease control department.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.