Vietnam identifies new, highly transmissible variant of coronavirus

Vietnam has detected a new, highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus, the Vietnamese Health Ministry announced Saturday. 

The variant, which is believed to have spurred a recent wave of COVID-19 infections in the country, has a mix of characteristics from both the strains first found in the United Kingdom and India, according to VnExpress, an international newspaper. 

Specifically, Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said the new variant is a version of the one first found in India with mutations that originally belonged to the U.K. variant, according to the news outlet. 

The new variant is highly contagious when spread through the air, and Long said viral cultures revealed the virus was able to replicate very quickly. 

“The Ministry of Health would announce the new coronavirus variant on the global genome map,” Long said, according to VnExpress. The variant has yet to be named. 

The news from Vietnam comes as India continues to struggle after the coronavirus overwhelmed hospitals and created a dearth of medical supplies in the country. 

In a potential sign of a coming reprieve, Reuters reported Saturday that the South Asian country has seen a decrease in cases for the first time in 45 days. India reported 173,790 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours. However, the wire service noted, the death toll rose to 3,617.

The Indian variant, B.1.617, is thought to be the main cause of an explosion of cases in the country. 

U.S health officials, including the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Anthony Fauci, said coronavirus vaccines are effective against the Indian variant. 

It remains unclear if a vaccine will stand up to the new variant announced by health officials in Vietnam. 

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