Authorities in Vietnam have detected a new coronavirus variant that is a hybrid of strains found in India and the United Kingdom, an official said.
Nguyen Thanh Long, the Vietnamese health minister, told a government meeting on Saturday that scientists found the new variant after examining the genetic makeup of the virus that had infected some recent patients.
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“That the new one is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belong to the UK variant is very dangerous,” he said.
Lab tests suggest the new strain might spread more easily than other versions of the virus, the minister said, adding that Vietnam would soon publish genome data of the newly identified variant.
After successfully containing the virus for most of last year, Vietnam is grappling with a rise in infections since late April that accounts for more than half of the total 6,856 registered cases. So far, there have been 47 deaths.
The Southeast Asian country had previously detected seven virus variants: B.1.222, B.1.619, D614G, B.1.1.7 – the variant first found in UK, B.1.351, A.23.1 and B.1.617.2 – the one detected in India.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four variants of SARS-CoV-2 of global concern. These include variants that were identified first in India, the UK, South Africa, and Brazil.
“At the present time, we have not yet made an assessment of the virus variant reported in Vietnam,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead for COVID-19, said in an emailed statement.
“Our country office is working with the Ministry of Health in Vietnam and we expect more information soon.”
From the WHO’s current understanding, the variant detected in Vietnam was the B.1.617.2 variant, the variant first identified in India, possibly with an additional mutation, she said.
“However, we will provide more information as soon as we receive it,” Van Kerkhove added.
Long, the Vietnamese health minister, said laboratory cultures of the new variant showed the virus replicated itself very quickly, possibly explaining why so many new cases had appeared in different parts of the country in a short period of time.
The health ministry told the meeting the government was working to secure 10 million vaccine doses under the COVAX cost-sharing scheme, as well as a further 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and 40 million of Russia’s Sputnik V.
The country of about 98 million people has so far received 2.9 million doses and aims to secure 150 million this year.
Vietnam hopes to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year, according to the health minister.