Vietnam has discovered a new coronavirus variant that's a hybrid of strains first found in India and the UK, the Vietnamese health minister said Saturday. Nguyen Thanh Long said scientists examined the genetic makeup of the virus that had infected some recent patients, and found the new version of the virus, the AP reports. He said lab tests suggested it might spread more easily than other versions. Viruses often develop small genetic changes as they reproduce, and new variants of the coronavirus have been seen almost since it was first detected in China in late 2019. The World Health Organization has listed four global "variants of concern"—the two first found in the UK and India, plus ones identified in South Africa and Brazil. Long says the new variant could be responsible for a recent surge in Vietnam, which has spread to 30 of the country's 63 municipalities and provinces.
Vietnam was initially a standout success in battling the virus—in early May, it had recorded a total of just over 3,100 confirmed cases and 35 deaths. But in the past few weeks, more than 3,500 new cases and 12 deaths have been confirmed, increasing the country's total death toll to 47. Most of the new transmissions were found in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, provinces dense with industrial zones where hundreds of thousands of people work for major companies including Samsung and Canon. Despite strict regulations, a company in Bac Giang discovered that one-fifth of its 4,800 workers had tested positive for the virus. In Ho Chi Minh City, where 9 million people live, at least 85 people have tested positive as part of a cluster at a Protestant church, the Health Ministry said. Worshippers sang and chanted while sitting close together without wearing proper masks. Vietnam has since prohibited all religious events. In major cities, authorities have banned large gatherings, closed public parks and nonessential business, including in-person restaurants, bars, clubs, and spas.
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