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Vietnam says new hybrid Indian-British virus variant is highly contagious

Health minister claims new COVID-19 mutation spreads quickly in the air; authorities call on people and businesses to donate money to help procure vaccines

In this file photo taken on March 30, 2020, a health worker, wearing protective clothing amid concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, conducts a swab test on a woman in her house in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Nhac NGUYEN / AFP)
In this file photo taken on March 30, 2020, a health worker, wearing protective clothing amid concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, conducts a swab test on a woman in her house in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Nhac NGUYEN / AFP)

HANOI — 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 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 — the lion’s share have occurred since April.

“We have discovered a new hybrid variant from the Indian and the UK strains,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long was quoted 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 this new variant but said Vietnam will soon announce the discovery in the world’s map of genetic strains.

In this file photo taken on March 31, 2020, residents, wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, practise social distancing as they wait to be tested at a makeshift rapid testing centre near the Bach Mai hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP)

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

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

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

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

Vietnam — a 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, according to the minister for health.

Authorities have called on people and businesses to donate money to help procure vaccines, while embassies and international organizations have been contacted for assistance, state media reported.

The country presently has close to two million doses of AstraZeneca’s 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.

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