Vietnam claims to have uncovered a new strain of the coronavirus — which could be the fastest-spreading yet — that combines characteristics of the so-called Indian and UK mutations.
The new variant, which spreads quickly by air, is being blamed for a surge in Vietnam which had been a stand-out success with just 3100 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.
In the last few weeks, the country recorded another 3500 infections and 12 deaths and the coronavirus has now spread to around half of its municipalities and provinces.
“Vietnam has uncovered a new COVID-19 variant combining characteristics of the two existing variants first found in India and the UK,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said in a statement.
“The new variant is very dangerous,” he added.
The World Health Organisation has identified four variants of SARS-CoV-2 of global concern. These include variants that emerged first in India, in Britain, in South Africa and in Brazil.
It has not responded yet to the reports from Vietnam.
Online newspaper VnExpress said Mr Long had described the new variant as a hybrid of the Indian and UK variants.
“The new one is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belong to the UK variant,” Mr Long was quoted as saying.
He added that authorities would soon announce the name and detailed characteristics of the newly discovered variant.
Laboratory cultures of the worrying strain, which is much more transmissible than the previously known types, revealed that the virus replicated itself very quickly, Mr Long was quoted.
He said that could explain why so many new cases had appeared in different parts of the country within a short period of time.
The Southeast Asian country had previously detected seven virus variants: B.1.222, B.1.619, D614G, B.1.1.7 – known as the UK variant, B.1.351, A.23.1 and B.1.617.2 – the “Indian variant”.
Vietnam so far has vaccinated one million people with AstraZeneca shots.
Last week, it sealed a deal with Pfizer for 30 million doses, which are scheduled to be delivered in the third and fourth quarters of this year.
It is also in talks with Moderna that would give it enough shots to fully vaccine 80 per cent of its 96 million people.
Duchess ‘hugely grateful’ for vaccine
Meanwhile coronavirus infections are plummeting across Europe, with the largest decline in new cases and deaths last week compared with any other region.
About 44 per cent of adults have received at least one dose of vaccines as the continent plans for summer vacations.
In Britain, the COVID-19 vaccination program was opened to anyone over the age of 30 last week. The program has been gradually expanded and more than 70 per cent of adults have already received at least one dose.
One of them was the Duchess of Cambridge, who received her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, following in the footsteps of her husband who was jabbed earlier this month.
“I’m hugely grateful to everyone who is playing a part in the rollout – thank you for everything you are doing,” said Kate, 39 in a tweet posted Saturday.
Kate, 39, wearing a face mask, white vest top and jeans, was pictured receiving a jab in her left arm.
Responding to the Kensington Palace tweet, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was also jabbed at the Science Museum, said: “In the last fortnight more than half of all people in their 30s have been vaccinated.
“Delighted HRH The Duchess of Cambridge was able to get her jab at the Science Museum.”
It comes after the Duke of Cambridge received his own first jab from NHS staff at the Science Museum earlier this month.
William had previously spoken in favour of the vaccine and hailed the “monumental” success of the Covid-19 jab program.
The duke contracted COVID-19 last spring and was able to carry on with telephone and online engagements while he was treated by royal doctors but was reportedly hit “pretty hard” by the virus and at one stage struggled to breathe.