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COVID-19: Vietnam asks public to donate cash to buy vaccines

Vietnam is asking members of the public to donate money that can be used to buy, import, research and produce COVID-19 vaccines.

The country is currently being hit by its biggest coronavirus outbreak so far, with nearly 60% of its infections recorded in the past month.

And the government has now sent mass text messages to citizens requesting financial contributions to a £777m special fund for the COVID vaccination programme.

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It comes as the country announced Russia had agreed to provide it with 20 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine this year.

"Vietnam is trying to get access to COVID-19 vaccine sources to speed up its vaccination rollout at the earliest," the country's health minister Nguyen Thanh Long said in a statement.

Vietnam approved the Russian jab in March but has intensified its procurement push after suffering its largest outbreak to date, although its overall cases and death numbers remain relatively low.

President Nguyen Xuan Phuc sent a letter to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin seeking assistance on coronavirus, following a similar request to US President Joe Biden.

Vietnamese media reported last month that a research centre under the health ministry was in talks to produce Sputnik V locally.

Mr Long said a government company, Vabiotech, would begin packaging Russian vaccines from July, with a monthly capacity of five million doses.

"This is an important step for Russia to transfer its vaccine production technology to Vietnam," he said.

He added that Vietnam was nearing its target of acquiring 150 million doses of vaccines this year to inoculate 75% of the 98 million population.

The country has taken delivery of nearly 2.9 million doses of coronavirus vaccine so far, mostly that of AstraZeneca and about one million have been administered.

Officials in Vietnam had previously suggested that the country's outbreak was being fuelled by a combination of two variants first identified in the UK and India.

But Kidong Park, the World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Vietnam, said the strain was actually a mutation of the Indian strain - now being referred to as the Delta variant.

"There is no new hybrid variant in Vietnam at this moment based on WHO definition," he told Nikkei Asia.

"The variant detected is Delta variant, with additional mutations, and needs more observation. We need to monitor during next couple of weeks."

Vietnam has recorded 49 deaths and just 7,781 cases overall.