Vietnam detects hybrid of Indian and UK COVID-19 variant

A health worker (right) receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi on March 8, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

NEW DELHI / BEIRUT / DHAKA / DOHA / PHNOM PENH / YANGON / SINGAPORE / TEHRAN / ANKARA / JERUSALEM / SEOUL / ULAN BATOR / HANOI / KABUL / MELBOURNE / PHNOM PENH / MANILA – Vietnam health minister Nguyen Thanh Long said on Saturday the country has detected a new variant of the coronavirus, a mix of the Indian and UK COVID-19 variants that spreads quickly by air, online newspaper VnExpress reported.

After successfully containing the coronavirus for most of last year, Vietnam is now battling an outbreak that is spreading more quickly.

Nearly 3,600 people have been infected in 31 of its 63 cities and provinces since late April, accounting for more than half of the country's total infections.

"After running gene sequencing on newly detected patients, we have discovered a new variant that is a mix of India and UK ones," Nguyen Thanh Long was quoted as saying.

"More specifically, it is an Indian variant with mutations that originally belong to the UK variant," he said. VnExpress quoted Long as saying Vietnam would announce the newly discovered variant to the world soon.

The Philippines

The Philippines resumed deploying workers to Saudi Arabia, a day after suspending the practice because of reports that Filipinos were being asked to pay for COVID-19 quarantine and insurance costs.

The Saudi government has ensured that employers and recruitment agencies will shoulder such expenses upon arrival, Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said in a statement on Saturday. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration will grant clearances for all workers going to the Middle East country, he said.

Almost 500 workers on Friday bound for Saudi Arabia were stopped from flying out. “The suspension order drew confusion and irritation. I apologize for the inconvenience and momentary anguish that it may have caused our overseas Filipino workers,” Bello said.

On Saturday, the Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) reported 7,443 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total cases in the Southeast Asian country to 1,216,582.

The death toll rose to 20,722 after 156 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said.


Malaysia’s cases hit a record for the fifth straight day, ahead of a two-week nationwide lockdown aimed at bringing the outbreak under control.

The country added 9,020 new cases on May 29, data showed. The new restrictions will be in place June 1-14.

The Malaysian government announced a two-week nationwide lockdown, which will begin June 1 as cases continued to breach daily records.

Only essential economic and services sectors will be allowed to operate, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Friday. The government will consider aid packages for companies and people affected by the lockdown, which will last till June 14.


Australia’s Victoria state reported five new local COVID-19 cases on Saturday amid a strict lockdown, as people rushed to vaccination centres, causing long lines and technological glitches.

The infections bring the latest cluster to 35, but the number of exposure sites visited by the infected people has expanded to more than 150, putting thousands at risk.

Victoria entered into the weeklong lockdown on Thursday night, the state’s fourth in the pandemic, forcing residents to remain at home.

The outbreak was caused by a traveller who left hotel quarantine in South Australia state after testing negative but later tested positive in Melbourne.

People lined up for several hours at vaccination centres on Saturday, trying to book a shot or get one on a walk-in basis. A designated state hotline for booking has crashed continually since Thursday.


New infections in India fell to their lowest level in more than six weeks. The country added 173,790 cases, taking the confirmed nationwide total to 27.73 million as of May 29, government data showed.

Daily fatalities remained below 4,000 for a third straight day. The country reported 3,617 deaths, taking the total to 322,512.

Amid the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in India, Bharat Biotech, the country's indigenous vaccine manufacturer, on Friday said that it took four months for a vaccine dose to reach the end user after passing through a cumbersome process.

The Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company manufactures the Covaxin vaccine.

"The timeline for manufacturing, testing and release for a batch of Covaxin is approximately 120 days, depending on the technology framework and regulatory guidelines to be met," said Bharat Biotech in a statement.

"There is a four-month lag time for Covaxin to translate into actual vaccination," it said.

According to the company, the production batches of Covaxin that were initiated during March will be ready for supply only during June.


Myanmar suspended some domestic flights and imposed restrictions in some townships to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases in the past two days, the Ministry of Health and Sports said.

Domestic flights between the commercial capital, Yangon, and at least five cities will be suspended for at least two weeks beginning May 29. Myanmar Airways International-Air KBZ Group, the nation’s largest private airline, said it would suspend operations in Tachileik, Kalay, Dawei, Myeik and Kawthaung.

Health minister Thet Khine Win warned of the possibility of a third virus wave as Myanmar reported 168 new COVID-19 cases in 48 hours, mostly from the townships of Tonzang and Tamu. The ministry imposed a stay-at-home order in the two townships, allowing people to leave only for work and health matters.

Myanmar reported 72 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 143,486 on Friday, according to a release from the Health and Sports Ministry.

No new death was reported and the death toll stood at 3,216.


Lebanon's COVID-19 ministerial committee on Friday issued new measures that demand arrivals from Britain and Brazil present a negative PCR test result received within 96 hours before their flight to Lebanon, the National News Agency reported.

Travellers should also conduct a PCR examination at Beirut's airport and commit to booking a room for five days at a hotel specified by Lebanon's Ministry of Tourism, according to the new measures. 

The committee noted that national and foreign diplomatic missions are exempted from hotel quarantine, provided that they adhere to quarantine for five days in their residences.

This rule also applies to people who received both shots of COVID-19 vaccines or who got infected with coronavirus within 90 days preceding the travel date, the committee noted.


Bangladesh reported 1,358 new COVID-19 cases and 31 more deaths on Friday, making the tally to 796,343 and the death toll to 12,511, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said.

The official data showed that 14,606 samples were tested in the last 24 hours across the country.

ALSO READ: India faces antifungal drug shortage as virus cases top 26m


The Qatari health ministry on Friday announced 202 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 216,885, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

Meanwhile, 331 more people recovered from the virus, bringing the overall recoveries to 212,379, while no new death was reported, keeping the fatalities at 552 for the second day, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.


Cambodia's Health Minister Mam Bunheng said that traditional Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen Capsules is "effective" to treat COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms.

Lianhua Qingwen Capsules, a patented traditional Chinese medicine widely used in China to treat symptoms of COVID-19 patients, was licensed by Cambodia's health ministry for use in April.

Cambodia on Friday logged 599 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, pushing the national case tally to 28,237, the health ministry said in a statement.

Residents are tested at a temporary swab centre set up at the void deck area on the ground floor of a public housing block, after a few positive COVID-19 cases were detected in the building, in Singapore on May 21, 2021. (Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)


Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 30 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total tally to 61,970.

Of the new cases, 15 are imported cases, and 15 are locally-transmitted ones. Of the locally-transmitted cases, 11 are linked to previous cases, and four are currently unlinked. The cases are all in the community, and there are no new cases in the dormitories.

Overall, the number of new cases in the community has decreased from 196 cases in the week before to 137 cases in the past week. The number of unlinked cases in the community has also decreased from 46 cases in the week before to 23 cases in the past week, said MOH.

ALSO READ: Singapore maintains 2021 GDP outlook despite virus setback


The Iranian health ministry reported on Friday 10,253 new COVID-19 cases, raising the country's total infections to 2,886,111.

The pandemic has so far claimed 79,568 lives in Iran, up by 184 in the past 24 hours, the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education said in a written briefing published on its official website.


Turkey on Friday confirmed 7,773 new COVID-19 cases, including 656 symptomatic patients, raising the total number in the country to 5,228,322, according to its health ministry.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 164 to 47,134, while the total recoveries climbed to 5,083,099 after 12,284 more people recovered in the last 24 hours.


An Indonesian ministry will introduce a “Work From Bali” program for civil servants aimed at helping to revive the island’s battered economy.

The Coordinating Ministry for Maritime and Investment Affairs will start with a pilot project in Nusa Dua, once a prime location for major conferences including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2013, to encourage more meetings and outbound activities on the island.

Tourism-reliant Bali has been among the country’s hardest-hit provinces as borders remain shut, leaving its hotels and beaches empty. Its GDP shrank 9.9 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, following a 9.3 percent contraction for all of 2020. The island welcomed just 25 foreigners from January to March, compared with 1.1 million in the same period last year.

The local government plans to accelerate its vaccination program with a goal of reaching herd immunity against COVID-19 by July, which could allow the island to reopen to international tourists.


The Israeli Ministry of Health on Friday reported one COVID-19 death case after three consecutive days of zero fatalities from the virus.

The death toll from the virus now rose to 6,407. Meanwhile, 17 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the 24 hours, raising the total number of infections in the country to 839,433, according to the ministry.


Thailand reported 4,803 new infections, among the country’s highest daily caseloads during the pandemic, and 34 deaths as the latest outbreak showed few signs of slowing.

Of the daily total, 2,702 infections were from people in prisons, the government said Saturday. New daily cases in Thailand reached a record 9,635 – most of them from prison clusters – earlier this month.

South Korea

South Korea reported 533 more cases of COVID-19 as of midnight Friday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 139,431.

The daily caseload was down from 587 in the previous day, sending the daily average caseload for the past week to 584.


Mongolia reported 769 new local COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, pushing the national case tally to 56,621, the country's health ministry said Saturday.

About 8,600 samples were tested in the past day across the country.

Five more fatalities were recorded, raising the death toll to 282, the ministry said.

More than 1,025,300 people, or 49.6 percent of Mongolian adults, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the health ministry said Saturday.


Afghanistan closed schools in 16 out of the country's 34 provinces from Saturday in the latest measure to further contain the spread of COVID-19, Afghan Public Health Ministry confirmed.

The measure, which will be reviewed in two weeks upon health assessment, applies to all universities and schools, both public and private in Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Logar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Parwan, Wardak, Panjshir, Balkh, Laghman, Badakhshan, Kapisa, Kunduz, Nimroz provinces, as well as Kabul province where the national capital Kabul city is located, the ministry said in a statement.

The country has recently seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. On Friday, the number of COVID-19 national tally soared to 70,107 after 977 new cases were recorded, the highest number of daily cases since the disease outbreak in February last year.


Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen vowed on Saturday to provide COVID-19 vaccines to 10 million out of the country's 16 million population by early next year.

The Southeast Asian nation launched a COVID-19 vaccination drive on Feb. 10, with China being the main vaccine supplier.

To date, more than 2.46 million people have already been vaccinated, Hun Sen said, adding that for the Phnom Penh municipal dwellers, some 60 percent of them have already been inoculated.

The prime minister said some 4.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be arriving in Cambodia in June.

The country on Saturday registered 588 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, pushing the national case tally to 28,825, the health ministry said in a statement.

Another seven new fatalities were confirmed, taking the overall death toll to 203, the ministry said, adding that another 415 patients recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 21,315.