A new coronavirus variant, Lambda, has emerged. Scientists and experts see the latest variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 as a fresh threat to the gains made over the last year or so. The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Lambda as a "variant of interest" on June 14. However, according to WHO, the first case of this variant, earlier known as C.37, was reported in December 2020.
The world health body designates a variant as a "variant of interest" when its genetic changes are predicted or known to affect important characteristics, including transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape. The WHO also says that a variant becomes a "variant of interest" when it is identified as a cause for significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries, with increasing relative prevalence alongside the increasing number of cases over time. Besides, such a variant also shows signs of other apparent "epidemiological impacts" to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.
The United Kingdom health body, Public Health England (PHE), designated Lambda as a "variant under investigation" on June 23, a day after the country reported a total of 6 cases.
The Lambda variant of SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in December 2020 in Peru, but the WHO declared it as a "variant of interest" only on June 14. The reason? According to a report in Financial Times, only one person in every 200 cases reported this variant. The number has now risen to 80% of today's COVID-19 cases in the South American country. Not just that, Peru also has the world's highest mortality rate, but there is no evidence to conclude that Lambda is the reason behind it.
Data at GISAID, a global science initiative, shows that at least 31 countries have reported the latest variant. Among these countries are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland etc.
Even though there's limited information available about whether or not the Lamda variant escapes the vaccines, researchers in Chile have published the results of a study they carried out. According to the conclusions of the preprint paper, mutations present in the spike protein of the Lambda variant of interest confer increased infectivity and immune escape from neutralizing antibodies triggered by CoronaVac, the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine. Even though the study was limited to just one vaccine, researchers said that massive vaccination drives that are currently underway must also be accompanied by strict genomic surveillance. It will allow the "identification of new isolates carrying spike mutations and immunology studies aimed to determine the impact of these mutations in immune escape and vaccine breakthrough," the study said.
While scientists at PHE expressed concerns that the latest strain of SARS-CoV-2 may spread quickly and may also be more resistant to vaccines, they emphasised there was no evidence corroborating the Lambda variant caused more severe disease or reduced the effectiveness of current vaccines.
The latest variant, Lambda, of the novel coronavirus has not been recorded in India so far, news agency ANI reported on Wednesday quoting sources.
India reported 43,733 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours against Tuesday's 34,703. The health ministry website showed 930 related deaths. The total number of cases now stands at 3,06,63,665 cases and 4,04,211 deaths in the country.