Vietnam has been hit hard with a spike in coronavirus infections since late April, after successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic. And the culprit appears to be a new hybrid COVID-19 variant that currently accounts for more than half of the total 6,856 registered cases and at least 47 deaths in Vietnam.
Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long describes the hybrid as a combination of the B.1.617.2 variant, aka Delta that was first discovered in India, and the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant, aka Alpha that was first found in the U.K. The newest COVID variant in Vietnam also reportedly spreads quickly and is highly transmissible by air, accounting for the surge in cases.
“Vietnam has uncovered a new COVID-19 variant combining characteristics of the two existing variants first found in India and the U.K.,” Long said in a recording of a recent government meeting obtained by Reuters. “That the new one is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belong to the U.K. variant is very dangerous.”
According to Long, lab cultures of the new variant demonstrated that the virus can replicate itself very quickly. He believes that’s why so many cases surfaced in different parts of the country in such a short period.
The World Health Organization also believes that the new strain is the Indian variant with a possible additional mutation from the U.K. variant. The four total variants identified by WHO as a cause for global concern include those first found in India, Britain, South Africa, and Brazil.
“At the present time, we have not yet made an assessment of the virus variant reported in Vietnam,” said WHO’s COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove in an emailed statement. “Our country office is working with the Ministry of Health in Vietnam, and we expect more information soon.”
Van Kerkhove added that the WHO will provide more information as soon as it’s received. Long likewise said that Vietnam would publish genome data of the newly identified COVID variant soon.
The good news is that all of the vaccines currently on the market seem to combat variant strains and mutations effectively. Long also revealed during the meeting that Vietnam was working to secure a total of 70 million doses from Pfizer, Russia’s Sputnik V, and the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative.
Vietnam, home to about 98 million people, has received only 2.9 million doses so far but hopes to increase that number to 150 million later in 2021.