Health officials in Vietnam said on Monday that a new strain of the novel coronavirus, which is currently ravaging the nation, may be three times more infectious than its predecessor, Business Insider reported.
The Southeast Asian country had maintained a streak of 99 days without a single new case of the novel coronavirus. However, on July 25, new cases began cropping up. Officials are calling the latest resurgence the "Danang outbreak," according to Reuters.
The new spike appears to be caused by a mutation of the pathogen, which may have made it three times more infectious than its predecessor, according to The Associated Press. Carriers of the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 -- the virus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic and which is referred to as the novel coronavirus -- infected between 1.8 and 2.2 other people, on average. However, those infected with the Danang mutation might infect between five and six people on average, according to Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long.
Marc Choisy, a bio-mathematician from the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Hanoi, also said that the new Vietnamese strain appears to be more severe.
"One big difference I've noticed between this wave and the previous one is that the cases we have right now, a lot of them are severe," he said.
Business Insider noted that viruses mutate all the time as part of the same evolutionary process that governs more advanced life forms. For example, there are multiple strains of the novel coronavirus, the original of which -- D614 -- emerged in Wuhan, China last December. As is the case with all viruses, the coronavirus included, the mutation doesn't necessarily mean that the virus is getting more infectious or more dangerous. However, some evidence seems to suggest that some mutated strains of the pathogen spread more effectively than the original.
The new strain has also been observed in the United Kingdom and Bangladesh, although whether or not it is causing surges in cases in those countries remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the current outbreak has been described as a "somber moment" in Vietnam. Prior to the recent surge, the country had been praised for its handling of the pandemic. Early on, the country imposed severe travel restrictions and locked down entire cities with even a trivial number of infected people, knowing that its health care infrastructure could not handle a pandemic.
Since the Danang outbreak, authorities have taken extreme measures to contain it, including sending in several hundred contact tracers to interview individuals who may have been exposed and to collect testing samples.