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Lambda: New Covid variant identified in 29 countries, says WHO

The Lambda mutant carries mutations that might increase transmissibility or strengthen the virus's resistance to antibodies, the WHO said

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Parenting through the pandemic

A new variant of the coronavirus, which scientists are referring to as Lambda (another letter in the Greek alphabet), has been classified as a ‘global Variant of Interest’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Describing the variant, the WHO has said it was first identified in Peru, where 81% of Covid-19 cases since April 2021 were associated with this variant. Now, the same variant has also been identified in 29 countries and notably in South America where it is believed to have originated, it said. 

In Chile, Lambda was detected in 32% of all submitted sequences in the last 60 days and only outclassed by the Gamma variant which was first identified in Brazil. 

Other countries such as Argentina and Ecuador have reported elevated prevalence of Lambda.

The Lambda mutant carries mutations that might increase transmissibility or strengthen the virus’s resistance to antibodies, the WHO said in its report.

However, evidence is too limited for the moment, the Geneva-based organisation said and more studies are required to understand better the Lambda variant.

Meanwhile, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan has said the Covid-19 Delta variant, which was first identified in India, is becoming the dominant variant globally because of its significantly increased transmissibility. The Covid-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update issued by the WHO on 15 June, the Delta variant is now being reported in about 80 countries around the world.

Another 12 countries and areas are “reporting the detection of B.1.617 without further specification of lineage at this time.

”The B.1.617.2 Delta variant was first detected in India around October 2020. The whole situation is so dynamic because of the variants that are now circulating and… the Delta variant is well on its way to becoming the dominant variant globally because of its significantly increased transmissibility,” Swaminathan said responding to a question at a press briefing in Geneva on 18 June.

WHO said that the Lambda variant “carries a number of mutations with suspected phenotypic implications, such as a potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralizing antibodies”.

“It is characterised by mutations in the spike protein, including G75V, T76I, del247/253, L452Q, F490S, D614G and T859N,” WHO said.

The WHO bulletin, however, also added that there is currently “limited evidence” on the full extent of the impact associated with these genomic changes, noting that further “robust studies into the phenotypic impacts are needed to better understand the impact on countermeasures and to control the spread”.

Further studies are required to validate the continued effectiveness of vaccines, it said.

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