After successfully containing the virus for most of last year, Vietnam has struggled with an increase in infections since the end of April that represents more than half of the total of 6,856 recorded cases. So far, there have been 47 deaths.
“Vietnam has discovered a new variant of COVID-19 combining the characteristics of the two existing variants first found in India and the UK,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said on Saturday, describing it as a hybrid of the two known variants.
“The fact that the new one is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belong to the British variant is very dangerous,” he said at a government meeting, a recording of which was obtained by the Reuters news agency.
There were seven known coronavirus variants in Vietnam before Long’s announcement, according to the Department of Health.
Long said Vietnam would soon release genome data for the newly identified variant, which he said was more transmissible than previously known types.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four variants of SARS-CoV-2 of global interest. These include variants first identified in India, UK, South Africa and Brazil.
WHO officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the variant identified in Vietnam.
Long said laboratory cultures of the new variant have shown the virus to replicate very quickly, perhaps explaining why so many new cases have emerged in different parts of the country in a short time.
The health ministry said at the meeting that the government is working to secure 10 million doses of vaccine under the COVAX cost-sharing program, as well as an additional 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccine and 40 million by Spoutnik 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 obtain collective immunity by the end of the year, according to the Minister of Health.