FEARS are growing that a rampant hybrid of the UK and Indian Covid variant is spreading in Vietnam after officials locked down a city of nine million.
Authorities plan to test every resident in Ho Chi Minh – at a reported rate of 100,000 per day – as it imposed more restrictions today to deal with the outbreak.
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People in the city are only allowed to leave home for necessary activities and public gatherings of more than 10 people are banned for the next two weeks, the government said.
Prior to the order, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s largest city and economic hub, shut down non-essential business last Thursday when cases started to increase.
Since the end of April, a surge in Covid has spread to 31 areas in Vietnam with over 4,000 cases, almost double the total number that the country reported since the beginning of the pandemic.
Some recent patients were infected with a hybrid of the virus variants first found in India and the UK, the health minister said Saturday.
Nguyen Thanh Long said the mutant strain might spread more easily and could be responsible for Vietnam’s recent surge.
After managing to contain the first and second waves of the virus, Vietnam is now facing a fast moving outbreak.
Its total cases have more than doubled in less than a month, jumping from 2,942 on May 1 to 7,236 as of today.
Vietnam had also not recorded a Covid death between September and May 16, but so far ten people have died of the disease in the last two weeks.
The country’s current death toll still stands at just 47 – minuscule in comparison to most other nations of a similar size.
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 categorized the UK and Indian variants, along with two others first found in South Africa and Brazil, as strains of concern because they appear to be more contagious.
Vietnam has vaccinated one million people with AstraZeneca shots and it has a deal with Pfizer for 30 million doses to be delivered later this year.
It is also in talks with Moderna that would give it enough shots to fully vaccinate 80 per cent of its 96 million people.
Professor Neil Ferguson previously said mutant strains could prevent the UK government’s roadmap from going ahead as planned if it is more transmissible than previous variants.
The scientist, dubbed Professor Lockdown, was speaking as the Indian variant continues to surge in the UK.
He added that it could be another “two to three weeks” before it is clear whether the final step in lifting the lockdown can safely go ahead on June 21.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the next week will be “crucial” as trusts analyse Indian variant data closely.
He said hospitals in Indian variant hotspots were seeing cases rise steadily and not at “an alarming rate”.
Mr Hopson said: “The next seven days will be crucial, and trusts will be monitoring the data closely.”