What is the Lambda Covid variant? Is this new coronavirus strain in the UK?

In June news of another new coronavirus variant came in the wake of warnings over easing restrictions too quickly, with concerns raised about the Lambda variant and whether it could follow in the fast-spreading footsteps of its Delta variant predecessor.
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As the UK opens back up for business and life returns to normal at long last, another variant of Covid-19 has caused concern in the scientific community.

This follows the spread of the Delta variant across the UK as a particularly aggressive and easily transmissible strain of coronavirus, which has seen UK travellers blocked from numerous countries across the world.

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The variant likewise resulted in some restrictions on travel across the UK being brought back into force, as First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced the controversial decision to prevent non-essential travel between Scotland and Manchester back in June – but was lifted just over a week later.

Spikes in cases across Scotland and the rest of the UK have shown the Delta variant speeding up the rate of transmission and showing that being single or double-jabbed does not guarantee anyone total immunity against Covid-19.

So far, the Lambda variant has not been identified as a particularly concerning strain – and is also not a totally new one, either – but epidemiologists and scientists are now watching it as it spreads across the world beyond its origins in South America.

Here’s what we know about this variant so far.

What is new Lambda variant of Covid-19? Picture: JPIMedia.What is new Lambda variant of Covid-19? Picture: JPIMedia.
What is new Lambda variant of Covid-19? Picture: JPIMedia.

What is the Lambda variant?

First identified in Peru in August 2020, the Lambda variant has been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a new ‘variant of interest’ and has as such become the latest variant to be listed as a variant of interest since the Delta variant on April 4.

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When a variant becomes one of interest to WHO, it means that epidemiologists will be paying close attention to how it accumulates and any particular attributes it might possess that could see it then determined to be a ‘variant of concern’ – which the Delta variant was around a month after it was first classed as a variant of interest to WHO.

Coronavirus: What is the Lambda variant? Where are cases of it right now and how fast does it spread? (Image credit: Getty Images)Coronavirus: What is the Lambda variant? Where are cases of it right now and how fast does it spread? (Image credit: Getty Images)
Coronavirus: What is the Lambda variant? Where are cases of it right now and how fast does it spread? (Image credit: Getty Images)

According to WHO, the Lambda variant, also known as C.37, is one to watch at the moment because it may show signs of greater transmissibility.

In their Covid-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update report dated June 15, WHO said: “This variant has been monitored as an alert for an extended period, and upon more information and updated assessments, is now considered as meeting the VOI working definition based upon evidence of continued emergence and suspected phenotypic implications.

“Lambda has been associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with rising prevalence over time concurrent with increased COVID-19 incidence."

Why does the Lambda variant matter?

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The fact that the Lambda strain has been observed by WHO to be causing “substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries” has seen it emerge as a key variant to watch – suggesting that it could show a higher or faster rate of spreading within local communities.

As with the Delta variant, it will be important to monitor the variant in case it develops any distinguishing symptoms which differ to the common coronavirus symptoms drummed into the population over the last 18 months.

This is not unusual for new variants of a virus which can typically be seen to occur as greater numbers of people present more immunity against older strains of the virus through vaccinations, meaning that the virus is forced to mutate and adapt.

Is the Lambda Variant in the UK?

The World Health Organisation have said that the earliest sequenced samples of the Lambda variant were recorded in Peru last August, but since June 15 2021 over 1730 sequences from 29 different countries, territories and areas have been logged with GISAID, the global initiative gathering and promoting rapid sharing of data on influenza viruses and Covid-19.

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The UK is included among these countries, with the UK Government reporting on July 2 the Lambda variant was under surveillance after eight Lambda cases were identified so far.

In an earlier report on June 25, the Government said that the six identified by that point had all occurred as a result of overseas travel.

The bulk of cases have so far been identified in South America, namely in Chile and Peru – where 81% of positive coronavirus cases sequenced since April 2021 are believed to have originated from this variant.

But as it spreads to Europe while the Delta variant continues to sweep over the population, the news of a potentially similar variant which spreads quickly serves as a reminder that Covid-19 is by no means over yet.

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