Vietnam has discovered a new Covid-19 variant which spreads quickly by air and is a combination of strains first identified in India and the UK, state media has reported.
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, most of which have occurred since April.
“We have discovered a new hybrid variant from the Indian and the UK strains,” the health minister, Nguyen Thanh Long, was quoted as telling a national meeting on the pandemic on 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 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 of Health.
The communist country has previously received widespread praise for its aggressive response to the pandemic, 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, a country of 97 million people, has vaccinated just over 1 million citizens. It is now ramping up its vaccine rollout and hopes to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year, according to the health minister.
Authorities have called on people and businesses to donate money to help procure vaccines, while embassies and international organisations have been contacted for assistance, state media reported.
The country has close to 2m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine left, but said it was buying more than 30m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.
It is also in talks with Russia to produce Sputnik V, according to state media, and is working on a homegrown vaccine.