Vietnam Suspends Some International Flights After Discovering ‘Very Dangerous’ Coronavirus Variant Combining India And U.K. Strains

Topline

Vietnam will suspend international flights into its capital city Hanoi this week and tighten restrictions in the city amid a new surge of Covid-19 cases, the government announced Monday, as the country—which has had among the lowest Covid-19 case numbers in the world—faces a new coronavirus variant mixing those first detected in India and the United Kingdom.

Key Facts

Flights into Hanoi will be suspended from June 1 through 7, and the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam reports international flights into Ho Chi Minh City are also suspended until June 14.

Hanoi imposed new restrictions after Ho Chi Minh City expanded its restrictions on Sunday for at least two weeks and announced it will test its entire population of nine million people for Covid-19.

Ho Chi Minh City’s outbreak is linked to a religious mission in the city that has so far been linked to the majority of the city’s cases—at least 125—the government said Sunday.

The new restrictions come right after the country revealed Saturday it had discovered a new coronavirus variant, which Vietnam’s health minister said combines “characteristics of the two existing variants first found in India and the UK.”

The fact the new strain “is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belong to the UK variant” makes the variant “very dangerous” and it is more transmissible than previous known forms of the coronavirus, health minister Nguyen Thanh Long said in a government meeting, a recording of which was reported by Reuters.

The World Health Organization said Monday that four cases of the mutation had been detected among 32 samples from people in northern Vietnam who were infected with the B.1.617 variant first detected in India, and the organization is monitoring the new mutation.

Big Number

7,236. That’s the number of Covid-19 cases Vietnam has recorded since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University, with 47 deaths. Vietnam had previously been hailed as one of the most successful at managing the pandemic—the country went three months without recording any domestic Covid-19 cases in the fall and didn’t record its first deaths until August 2020—and more than half of its cases have been recorded since late April when the current surge began.

Tangent

Vietnam’s outbreak could potentially disrupt the tech supply chain if it continues, Reuters reports, as the new surge has led to staffing shortages in factories that manufacture supplies for companies like Apple and Samsung. A current workaround by one Apple supplier to split its workforce was a “temporary solution, for maybe two weeks,” one source told Reuters Friday.  “Otherwise, the supply chain will be more or less disrupted.”

Key Background

The B.1.617 variant first detected in India and B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom are two of the variants the WHO has identified as “variants of concern,” though it has not yet made a determination on the variant mutation found in Vietnam. A recent study found that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are considered to largely protect against both variants, though there’s a fairly low efficacy rate after only the first dose, and the Moderna vaccine is considered to be protective against the new strains as well. Vietnam still has a fairly low vaccination rate, with only approximately 1 million doses administered and less than 0.1% of the country’s population fully vaccinated, according to public health data compiled by the New York Times.

Further Reading

Vietnam stops more inbound flights, tightens curbs in biggest city (Reuters)

Vietnam detects hybrid of Indian and UK COVID-19 variants (Reuters)

Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City introduces 2 weeks of COVID-19 distancing measures (Reuters)

WHO Classifies Indian Covid-19 Mutation As A ‘Variant Of Concern’ (Forbes)

‘Double Mutant’ Covid Variant: Here’s What We Know As Israel Reports Vaccine Efficacy Against Variant First Detected In India (Forbes)

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