The Lambda variant, first detected in Peru back in December, has now reached 27 countries, with six cases recently being caught in the UK between February 23rd and June 7th.
The coronavirus variant, equipped with some rather ‘unusual mutations’, is now Peru’s dominant strain, making up over 80% of all new cases and a third of all cases in Chile. Pablo Tsukayama, a molecular scientist at the Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, explained to The Sun that the rapid domination of the new coronavirus strain suggests ‘its rate of transmission is higher than other variants.’
The Lambda strain is now the seventh ‘variant of interest’ for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is under close watch from Public Health England (PHE). PHE has revealed that testing for the variant is ongoing, but there is no evidence yet to suggest the variant causes more severe disease or could thwart current vaccines.
Researchers discover unusual mutations in Lambda variant
According to Science Director Jeff Barett, testing the virulence of the Lambda variant may prove a difficult task due to the COVID strains’ ‘unusual mutations.’ He also explained that a lack of genome sequencing facilities in South America might also mean that cases of the virus could be going undetected.
One possible concern for researchers is the Lambda variant’s L452Q mutation. Similar to the L542R mutation found in the Delta variant, the L542Q shows increased potential to infect human cells.
Experts at the University of Chile studied the Lambda variant among local healthcare workers fully vaccinated with China’s CoronaVac vaccine and found the new variant was more infectious than both the Alpha and Gamma variants first detected in the UK and Brazil. The yet-to-be peer-reviewed paper explained:
Our data show for the first time that mutations present in the spike protein of the Lambda variant confer escape to neutralising antibodies and increased infectivity.
Lambda variant detected in the UK
Since late February, six cases of the Lambda variant have been sequenced in the UK, all of which were attributed to overseas travel. Still, the Delta variant remains the UK’s most dominant strain.
On Sunday, the UK detected another 24,248 cases of coronavirus and 15 deaths, compared to 24,855 cases and 18 COVID-related deaths on Saturday. This time last week, the figures stood at just 14,876 infections and 11 deaths.
Cases have also been dramatically increasing over the last month. The seven-day average for June 1st stood at just 4,147, but as of July 1st, the number had risen to 24,809.
Despite the surge in infections, severe illness and hospitalisations remain low compared to January when upwards of 40,000 people had been hospitalised with the virus. It is believed that the uptake of vaccines in the UK has successfully broken the link between COVID cases and hospitalisations, which is also a critical deciding factor for the July 19th Freedom Day.