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Vietnam Detects UK, South African Variants in Imported Cases from Cambodia

FILE - Vietnamese soldiers, wearing protective masks, stand guard at the National Convention Center, the venue for the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hanoi, Vietnam, January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Kham

Health authorities and state media in Vietnam said COVID-19 samples taken from imported cases from Cambodia have shown the presence of the UK and South African variants of the virus.

Vietnam’s Health Ministry reported on Monday that Minister Nguyen Thanh Long was visiting the southern city of Can Tho to prepare an 800-bed field hospital in preparation for a potential cluster originating out of Cambodia, on account of illegal border crossings.

The Vietnamese ministry’s news release said recent imported cases from “a neighboring country,” stopping short of naming which country, had revealed the presence of the UK (B.1.1.7) and South African (B.1.351) variants.

The Communist Party’s mouthpiece Nhan Dan published in Vietnamese on Sunday that the imported cases were from Cambodia.

“Pasteur Institute of Ho Chi Minh City conducted genetic sequencing of imported cases from Cambodia to Vietnam showing the result that: 85.7 percent of the sample of people returning from Cambodia carried variant B1.1.7 … and 14.3 percent carry variant B.1.351,” Nhan Dan reported.

The B.1.351 variant was first detected in December 2020 in South Africa, which has made the virus more infectious but not significantly deadlier, according to the US Center for Disease Control. Whereas, the B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom is a deadlier strain of the novel coronavirus.

The party-run newspaper did not provide details on the number of samples tested for genetic sequencing by the Ho Chi Minh City branch of Pasteur Institute, which did not respond to VOA Khmer’s requests for comment.

Cambodia has not officially confirmed the presence of the B.1.351 South African variant in the country. COVID-19 cases have passed the 10,000 mark this week as the viral outbreak resulted in Phnom Penh and some parts of the country being in lockdown.

On Sunday, Health Ministry Spokesperson Or Vandine said, “I have not had that information,” when asked to confirm the possible presence of the new South African variant in Cambodia.

Institut Pasteur du Cambodge Director Laurence Baril did not answer questions about the existence of the South African variant in Cambodia and said they did not have time to respond to journalists.

“We are quite busy with the COVID-19 response; I am sorry but this is not a good time for our team to answer to journalists at the moment,” she said in an email.

The testing facility is doing from 2,500 to 3,000 COVID-19 tests every day, according to Baril.

Cambodia’s “February 20” outbreak of COVID-19 has seen cases jump from around 500 in late February to more than 11,000 cases as of Tuesday. The government’s vaccination drive has delivered 1.3 million doses of the Sinopharm, Sinovac, and AstraZeneca vaccines.

Both pharmaceutical companies that manufacture Sinopharm and Sinovac said in March their vaccines were effective against the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants, according to Beijing’s state-run media Global Times. The two vaccines are still to be recognized by the World Health Organization, with approval expected in the next few days.

Vietnam has been on high alert following Cambodia’s new outbreak. The country has a total case count of 2,852 as of Tuesday, including 297 active cases and 35 reported deaths.

The Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh recently reminded its citizens and ethnic Vietnamese communities in Cambodia not to travel back to their homeland.