Authorities in Vietnam have detected a new variant of coronavirus that was bred from two variants of COVID-19 in India and the UK and spread quickly through the air, local media quoted Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long as saying on Saturday while Vietnam is grappling with an increase in the number of new infections.
Mr. Long’s speech was given at a nationwide online conference to update the situation and solutions to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi.
After successfully containing the coronavirus for most of last year, Vietnam is seeing a spike in infections since the end of April, accounting for more than half of the total 6,856 recorded cases. To date, Vietnam has reported 47 deaths from the virus.
Most of the new infections were detected in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, two provinces with many industrial parks with hundreds of thousands of people working for major companies including Samsung, Canon, and Luxshare, a partner in assembling Apple products.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest city with 9 million inhabitants, at least 85 people have tested positive for an infection cluster at a Protestant church.
“The health authorities have just discovered a new strain that has a hybrid between the strain from India and the strain from the UK,” Mr. Long was quoted as saying by the Ho Chi Minh City Law Newspaper, and added that on the Indian strain there is a genetic mutation of the British strain.
“The characteristics of this strain spread quickly and widely in the air, the concentration of virus in the throat fluid increased very quickly and spread very strongly into the surrounding environment. The number of cases increased very quickly and spread in a short time,” he was quoted as saying.
Reuters said it obtained an audio recording of the meeting in which Mr. Long said the new virus was “very dangerous.”
Vietnam had previously detected seven virus variants: B.1.222, B.1.619, D614G, B.1.1.7 – known as British variant, and B.1.351, A.23.1, and B.1.617.2 – “Indian variant.”
“The Ministry of Health will announce this strain’s gene map,” the minister said, according to VnExpress news site.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four variants of SARS-CoV-2 that are causing global concern. These include variants that first appeared in India, Great Britain, South Africa, and Brazil.
Reuters said WHO officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the variant identified in Vietnam.
The Ministry of Health said during the meeting that the government is working to acquire 10 million doses of the vaccine under the COVAX cost-sharing program, as well as 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and 40 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V.
Vietnam, with a population of 98 million, has so far received 2.9 million doses of the vaccine and aims to get 150 million this year.