The Asian continent continues to face new challenges in its fight against covid-19. Vietnam, one of the most successful countries in containing the pandemic last year, has detected a new variant of the virus, which would be a hybrid of the one identified in India and the United Kingdom, easily transmissible through the air. Vietnamese authorities have in turn launched a campaign to test the 13 million inhabitants of its largest city, Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon), as a result of the increase in cases. Meanwhile, neighboring Malaysia has declared a national closure effective as of Tuesday, reflecting the upward trend in infections in many parts of Asia.
Vietnam’s Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long made the announcement about the new variant on Saturday. This has been detected by the country’s Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, which claims to have identified up to four infections with this type of coronavirus. However, it has not yet been registered by GISAID (acronym for Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data, in Spanish the global initiative to share data on influenza viruses), the largest genetic database on SARS-CoV- 2 and its variants, making it difficult to assess its potential severity. An epidemiologist from the World Health Organization (WHO), Maria Van Kerkhove, tweeted about it last weekend: “The variant detected (in Vietnam) is B.1.617.2 (the one detected in India) with an additional mutation, but more information will be available soon. Remember that variants are constellations of mutations. Many variants have similar mutations. “
The possibility of a new variant in Vietnam coincides with an increase in cases in the Southeast Asian country, which have doubled this month to more than 7,400, without being clear if the rebound is related to the possible new strain. The outbreaks have spread rapidly in the country’s large industrial areas, prompting the imposition of social distancing measures in the northern provinces of Bac Ninh and Bac Giang and also in Ho Chi Mihn, the most populous city in the country. The measures, in force since Monday, include the closure of non-essential services, such as shops and restaurants, and the suspension of religious activities, after an outbreak linked to a temple in that city. This Tuesday it has announced 111 new infections.
Vietnamese authorities have also begun testing Ho Chi Minh’s 13 million inhabitants for covid-19, at a rate of 100,000 tests a day, according to the agency. Vietnam News Agency (VNA). “The city will give priority for testing to the population at risk, including workers in industrial parks and members of religious missions,” announced this medium.
As in most Asian countries, especially the less developed ones, the vaccination rate in Vietnam is slow. To date, about 1 million of the nation’s 96 million people have received at least one dose of the Oxford and AstraZeneca formula. The Vietnamese government expects to receive 150 million doses, including the BioNTech-Pfizer prototype, by this year.
The pandemic worsens in Asia
New variants and slow vaccination are putting many Asian countries that have been relatively safe until now under scrutiny. Malaysia, with a population of nearly 33 million people, has imposed a nationwide lockdown since Tuesday after months of insufficient measures since January (going from about 2,500 daily infections then to more than 9,000 on Saturday).
The alarms have also gone off in the southern Chinese city of Canton (in the province of the same name), where this weekend the partial closure of one of its neighborhoods, Liwan, has been ordered after they have registered since May 21 to less than thirty infections. After two weeks of semi-closure, the disease is still far from being controlled in Taiwan, which on Saturday again registered a record number of deaths (21), in addition to 486 new cases. For its part, Japan – where more than 4,000 cases are still registered a day, although they are in decline – announced on Friday the extension of the state of emergency in Tokyo and in eight other prefectures at least until June 20, just a month before the scheduled date for the Olympics.
Nepal is also considering declaring a health emergency in the face of the ravages caused by the virus in the nation of 30 million people, which is putting its health system to the limit. The ray of hope in the continent comes from India, one of the current epicenters of the pandemic, which on Sunday registered the smallest daily increase in infections in the past 46 days (165,553, in addition to 3,460 deaths), although the country continues struggling to get vaccinated.
Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore, who imposed a national semi-closure two weeks ago in the face of several outbreaks, was also optimistic about the results of the measures – which include the almost total closure of borders, restaurants and schools – and He hoped to be able to soften them on June 13, when their review is expected.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.