Vietnam has discovered a new Covid-19 variant which 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.
“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.”
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 parlours as well as tourism and religious spots have been ordered to close in various areas of the country.
Vietnam has since ordered a nationwide ban on all religious events, and major cities have banned large gatherings and closed public parks and non-essential businesses.
The new variant could be responsible for a recent surge in cases of the coronavirus, which has spread to 30 of the country’s 63 municipalities and provinces, Mr Nguyen said.
Vietnam was previously seen as a success story in battling the virus.
On May 1, its caseload since the start of the pandemic was 2,942, with 35 deaths. But in the past few weeks, the country has confirmed more than 3,500 new cases and 12 more deaths.
Vietnam, with 97 million people, has vaccinated about a million citizens.
It is now speeding up its programme and hopes to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year, Mr Nguyen said.