Vietnam's Health Ministry on Saturday said it has detected a new variant of the coronavirus that is a mix of the virulent Indian and UK variants, and spreads quickly by air, Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said on Saturday.
"After running gene sequencing on newly detected patients, we have discovered a new variant that is a mix of India and UK ones," news website VnExpress quoted Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long as saying.
"More specifically, it is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belonged to the UK variant."
The Health Ministry said the new variant is thought to be much more transmissible than the previously known types. Laboratory cultures of the mixed variant also show that the virus replicates itself very quickly.
After successfully containing the virus for most of last year, Vietnam is now in the midst of itsmost intense COVID outbreak since the pandemic began. Long said the new variant could help explain why cases in Vietnam have been rising so quickly.
More than 3,600 COVID infections have been reported across Vietnam since the end of April alone. Just under 6,400 COVID cases have been reported in total.
Here is a roundup of the latest coronavirus news from around the globe:
Researchers in France found that the Indian coronavirus variant "acquired partial resistance to antibodies" while testing people who had recovered from COVID-19 during last year and people who were vaccinated with two doses of BioNTech/Pfizer.
The subjects still had enough antibodies to be protected against the Indian variant of the virus. However, they shown three to six times less antibodies than against the UK variant, said Olivier Schwartz, director of France's Pasteur Institute.
French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged more investment for COVID vaccine production in Africa.
"It is a matter of duty," to support the poorest countries to access vaccines, he said.
Macron, who was in South Africa Friday, made the comments after meeting South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
"We will put in place an investment strategy for industry to produce more," particularly in Africa, he added.
The two leaders also discussed a temporary waiver of World Trade Organisation (WTO) property rights over COVID vaccines.
There should be "no barrier to access to vaccines. Let's lift all these barriers and deliver concrete and efficient tech transfer", Macron said.
"COVID vaccines must be global public goods," he added.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who appeared with Macron at South Africa's University of Pretoria, announced investment deals to produce more vaccines in Africa, an initiative supported by the European Union, the United States and the World Bank.
"Together with France and the EU we want to support technology transfer and the establishment of regional manufacturing centers," Spahn said, vowing that Germany would invest $50 million into the project.
German prosecutors are investigating free coronavirus testing centers for possible fraud. In recent weeks, multiple testing sites sprung up around the country with the government providing €18 ($22) for every test. However, Germany's broadcasters NDR and WDR and the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily found massive discrepancies between the actual workload and the numbers reported to the government. For example, a testing center in Cologne had only taken 70 samples but asked the officials to reimburse it as if nearly 1,000 people have been tested.
Also in Germany, the government is easing entry restrictions for several more EU countries due to declining numbers of COVID infections.
The Netherlands and Cyprus will be downgraded on Sunday from high-incidence to high-risk areas, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) announced on Friday, which means a quarantine obligation for travelers from the two countries will be lifted.
Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria will be removed from the list of risk areas along with Liechtenstein and Monaco.
On Saturday, Germany reported 5,426 new COVID cases and 163 deaths, according to RKI data. The seven-day average of new infections per population of 100,000 sunk again to 37,5.
Spain will welcome international cruise ships into its ports from June 7, authorities said, lifting the ban that was first imposed in March 2020.
International cruises contributed €2.8 billion ($3.4 billion) to Spain's GDP in 2019.
In Italy, the government wants to speed up lifting coronavirus curbs in some regions.
The region of Molise, the holiday island of Sardinia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the northeast are to be placed in a "white zone," which is the lowest level of restriction.
There will be no night curfew in the white zone and places like amusement parks and cultural spots will be allowed to resume operations starting Monday.
Masks will still be mandatory, indoors and outdoors and physical distancing rules will continue to apply
Other areas in Italy will remain in the "yellow zone" with moderate measures in place.
Romania started vaccinating children aged 12 to 15 in the capital Bucharest on Saturday, local media reported. The EU's drug regulator gave its approval to start giving children the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine on Friday, but the European Commission has not yet given its official approval.
The Middle East
Lebanon reported over 10,000 people received their COVID-19 shots in the nationwide vaccination drive dubbed the "AstraZeneca Marathon."
The authorities called on people aged 30 and above to come to 30 vaccination centers across the country. No registration was required. Beirut was not included in the campaign. The marathon is set to become a weekly event.
Iran's Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian said on Saturday that Iraq had agreed to transfer $125 million (€102 million) of frozen funds to a European bank for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, Iranian state media reported.
Iran — the Middle Eastern country worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic — is hoping to purchase 16 doses from the COVAX vaccine-sharing program. It has previously said US sanctions were preventing the Islamic Republic from making payments to the program.
India on Saturday reported its lowest infection tally in 45 days with 173,790 new cases of COVID. Deaths in the South Asian nation rose by 3,617. The total caseload in the country is now at 27.7 million with 322,512 deaths.
Afghanistan is closing many schools and universities across the country amid a surge in COVID cases, the country's health ministry announced on Saturday.
All government and private educational institutions will close for two weeks in 16 of the country's 34 provinces.
The new curbs came as Afghanistan reported 977 new COVID cases in one day, the highest daily tally since the start of the outbreak.
Malaysia recorded its highest number of daily COVID infections for the fifth day in a row on Saturday. Just over 9,000 cases were registered, bringing the country's total number of cases since the pandemic began up to 558,534.
dvv/wmr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)