A new COVID-19 coronavirus variant has been discovered in Vietnam that is a hybrid of the two variants detected in India and the UK.
According to Vietnam’s Health Minister, who spoke to local reporters, the new SARS-CoV-2 strain spread faster through the air and reproduced rapidly once inside a person’s throat.
Lineage of the B.1.617 from India
“The concentration of the coronavirus in the throat fluid increases rapidly and spreads very strongly to the surrounding environment,” Nguyen Thanh Long, the health minister, said.
He added that the variant was the Indian variant which had mutations initially seen in the UK variant. However, the government has yet to announce the new variant formally.
The confirmation of the news comes at a time when Vietnam is struggling with widespread infections of COVID-19. The country was among those that had the best containment measures last year as many countries struggled.
Surge hitting Vietnam hard
However, it is now coming down hard with a surge in new infections, as the curve hits a sharp incline. In total, Vietnam has reported just under 6,400 COVID-19 cases. However, 1,000 of these have come over the past week. More than 3,600 cases have come between the end of April and May.
This then means that close to half of Vietnam’s total COVID-19 cases have come in the past month, hardly a promising sign.
(1/4) Vietnam has reported the emergence of a variant which combines elements of the UK (B.1.1.7) & Indian (B.1.617.2) variants. According to the Health Minister it could spread “very fast” in the air.
Vietnam is struggling to contain the new variants. pic.twitter.com/rdtQcN1WHh
— Dr Zoë Hyde (@DrZoeHyde) May 29, 2021
Eric Feigl-Ding, an Epidemiologist, said that this kind of mutation was likely to have occurred through a process called recombination. Recombination is when the coronaviruses ‘swap’ large amounts of genetic material.
This swapping then allows for much more significant changes, which means the variant that comes from the combination could have the worst traits of the two strains. Thus, this could be why the new strain found in Vietnam transmits more quickly, especially through the air.
9) “Recombination” is different than ordinary accumulation of mutations, which is error rate driven. But recombination is large scale “swapping” of genetic material between coronaviruses, which allows for bigger and faster changes— and variants to arise that is the worst of both https://t.co/IyiXInl8HH
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) May 29, 2021
So far, right now, there are four variants of concern according to the WHO – The variants from Brazil, India, The UK and South Africa.