Vietnam identifies new Covid strain
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Vietnam identifies new Covid strain

Hybrid of UK and Indian variants 'spreads very quickly by air', says health minister

A security officer uses hand sanitiser at the Quan Su pagoda in front of an illustration of a masked monk in Hanoi on Wednesday, when Buddhists across the region celebrated Vesak Day. (AFP Photo)
A security officer uses hand sanitiser at the Quan Su pagoda in front of an illustration of a masked monk in Hanoi on Wednesday, when Buddhists across the region celebrated Vesak Day. (AFP Photo)

Vietnam has discovered a new Covid-19 variant that spreads quickly by air and is a combination of the Indian and British strains, state media reported on Saturday.

The country is struggling to deal with fresh outbreaks across more than half of its territory including industrial zones and big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

More than 6,700 cases including 47 deaths have been reported in Vietnam, with the lion’s share occurring since April.

“We have discovered a new hybrid variant from the Indian and the UK strains,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long was quoted as telling a national meeting on the pandemic Saturday.

“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 specify the number of cases recorded with the new variant but said Vietnam would soon announce the discovery in the world’s map of genetic strains.

There were seven known coronavirus variants in Vietnam before Long’s announcement, according to the ministry.

The country has previously received widespread praise for its aggressive pandemic response, with mass quarantines and strict contact tracing helping keep infection rates low.

The new round of infections has made the public and government fearful and authorities have moved quickly moved to place strict limits on movement and business activity.

Cafes, restaurants, hair salons and massage parlours as well as tourism and religious spots have been ordered to close in various areas of the country.

The country of 97 million people has vaccinated a little over a million citizens.

It is now ramping up its jab rollout and hopes to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year.

Vietnam has close to 2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine remaining, but said it is buying more than 30 million doses of the Pfizer shot.

It is also in talks with Russia to produce Sputnik V, according to state media, and is working on a home-grown vaccine.

The naming of the new strain reported in Vietnam could be a matter some sensitivity, if the current consternation being expressed in Thailand is any guide.

The government on Friday took exception to media reports in Britain that labelled a new strain causing concern there as the Thai variant.

The strain was first detected in Thailand in a 33-year-old Egyptian traveller, UK health authorities said, but 109 cases have since been found in Britain.

“Principally speaking, it should not be called the Thai variant because the infected person is from overseas,” said Dr Opas Kankawinpong, head of the Department of Disease Control.

In other coronavirus news:

Malaysia on Saturday reported 9,020 new Covid cases, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.

It was the fifth straight day of record new infections, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 558,534.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday announced a nationwide “total lockdown” that would start on Tuesday. All social and economic sectors, with only essential services remaining in operation, he said, in an effort to bring the virus under control.

Myanmar has suspended some domestic flights and imposed restrictions in some townships to fight a surge in Covid cases in the past two days, the Ministry of Health and Sports said on Saturday.

Domestic flights between Yangon, and at least five cities have been suspended for at least two weeks. Myanmar Airways said it would suspend operations in Tachileik, Kalay, Dawei, Myeik and Kawthaung.

Health minister Thet Khine Win warned of the possibility of a third virus wave as Myanmar reported 168 new Covid cases in the past 48 hours, mostly from the townships of Tonzang and Tamu. The ministry imposed a stay-at-home order in the two townships, allowing people to leave only for work and health matters.

“We will make sure to contain the virus spread as soon as possible,” the minister was quoted as saying by the state broadcaster MRTV, citing a rise in cases along the border with Thailand. Since April 27, Myanmar has banned visitor entry from neighbouring India and Bangladesh.

Myanmar has reported more than 143,000 Covid cases, including more than 3,200 deaths.

In Taiwan, the death toll jumped for a second day as the spreading Covid outbreak showed no sign of letting up after two weeks of soft lockdown measures.

Health authorities reported a record 21 deaths and 320 newly confirmed domestic cases.

New infections in India fell to their lowest level in more than six weeks. The country added 173,790 cases, taking the confirmed nationwide total to 27.73 million as of May 29.

Daily fatalities remained below 4,000 for a third straight day. The country reported 3,617 deaths, taking the total to 322,512.

The World Health Organization said it was finalising its assessment of China’s Sinovac jab after it asked for further clarifications on the data provided.

An expert panel will meet on Tuesday to make a decision, said Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for drug access, vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

The WHO approved China’s Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use earlier this month.

The United Kingdom reported 4,182 more cases, the first time the reported figure has been over 4,000 since April 1.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that the plan to end England’s pandemic restrictions on June 21 is hanging “in the balance”, with the more-transmissible virus variant first found in India now making up as many as three-quarters of all new cases.

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