Vietnam has discovered a new COVID-19 variant that spreads quickly by air and is a combination of the Indian and UK 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 of 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.