Lambda Covid variant with ‘unusual set of mutations’ sparks fears – detected in 31 nations

Delta variant: Expert predicts '100,000 UK cases a day'

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The Lambda strain was first identified late last year in Peru, which has the world’s highest death rate per capita, and now makes up around 80 percent of the country’s cases. And in June it was listed as a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Pablo Tsukayama, a doctor in molecular microbiology at the Cayetano Heredia University in Peru’s capital Lima, warned the strain could be more contagious than others.

He said when the variant was first noted in Peru in December it was “just one in every 200 samples”.

Speaking to the Financial Times, he added: “By March, however, it accounted for about 50 percent of samples in Lima and now it’s about 80 percent.

“That would suggest its rate of transmission is higher than other variants.”

However, Jairo Méndez Rico, an adviser on emerging viral diseases at the Pan-American Health Organization, said more research was needed on the strain.

He said: “At the moment there’s no evidence to suggest it’s more aggressive than other variants.

“It’s possible that it has a higher rate of contagion but more work needs to be done on it.”

The WHO named Lambda as its seventh “variant of interest” on June 14.

These strains are thought to be less of a threat than the four “variants of concern” – Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

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On June 23, Public Health England (PHE) listed Lambda as a variant under investigation “due to international expansion and several notable mutations”.

Jeff Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK, said the strain has an “unusual set of mutations”.

He said: “One reason why it is hard to make sense of the threat from Lambda, using computational and lab data, is that it has rather an unusual set of mutations, compared with other variants.”

Mr Barrett added that a lack of genetic sequencing facilities in Latin America, which has been badly hit by the pandemic, means it is unclear how far Lambda is causing the outbreaks.

In Britain, where the Delta variant is dominant, the strain currently only accounts for less than 0.1 percent of cases.

PHE data released last Friday showed UK cases of the Delta variant, first identified in India, had risen almost four-fold in less than a month.

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