Hanoi, Vietnam: A novel Covid-19 variant has been traced that spreads swiftly by air and is a mix of Indian and British strains, health experts in Vietnam said Saturday.
Fresh outbreaks have been reported across more than half of the country, including industrial zones and major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
In Vietnam, more than 6,800 cases have been documented, with 47 deaths, the majority of which have occurred since April.
“We have discovered a new hybrid variant from the Indian and the UK strains,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long told a national meeting on the pandemic Saturday, according to state media.
“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.”
He did not say how many cases of this new variety had been registered, but he did say Vietnam would soon publicize the discovery on the world’s genetic strain map.
In a statement released Saturday, Vietnam’s Central Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology stated its experts had discovered DNA alterations in four of 32 patient samples after performing gene sequencing.
According to the Ministry of Health, there were seven known coronavirus types in Vietnam prior to Long’s revelation.
The communist country has previously been praised for its strong pandemic response, which included mass quarantines and stringent contact tracing to keep infection rates low.
The public and government are both frightened about the latest round of infections, therefore officials have moved rapidly to impose stringent restrictions on mobility and business activity.
In various parts of the country, cafes, restaurants, hair salons, and massage parlours, as well as touristic and religious sites, have been forced to close.
Vietnam, which has a population of 97 million people, has vaccinated just over a million individuals.
According to the health minister, the country is currently stepping up its vaccination program with the aim of achieving herd immunity by the end of the year.
Authorities have asked citizens and businesses to give money to help procure vaccines, and have contacted embassies and foreign organizations for aid, according to official media.
The country now has about two million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine left but has announced that it will purchase more than 30 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.
According to official media, it is also in discussions with Russia to create Sputnik V and is developing a home-grown vaccine.
The Thai government took issue on Saturday with media stories in Britain that referred to a new strain raising worry in Thailand as the “Thai variant.”
The strain was first discovered in Thailand by a 33-year-old Egyptian traveler, according to UK health officials, but 109 cases have since been discovered in the United Kingdom.
“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.