Lambda variant of COVID-19 detected in more than 30 countries

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc in our lives as we move into the second half of 2021. Even though countries are speeding up the inoculation of their citizens, the deadly virus has got better at adapting itself as we get reports of the discovery of new variants from time to time.

We have heard of four major variants reported by the media so far. They are B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma) and B.1.617.2 (Delta). But now, there’s a new strain of the COVID-19 virus called the Lambda variant that is said to be deadlier than the Delta variant. It has also spread to more than 30 countries so far.

Lambda variant classification and potential risks

Covid-19 mortality rate graph
Image credit: Johns Hopkins University

This new strain of COVID-19 or lineage C.37 was classified as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization due to its “high circulation rates in South America and the presence of critical mutations in the spike protein“. It was originally detected in Peru, which has the highest mortality rate in the world so far.

In the last 4 weeks, the virus has been detected in more than 30 countries, including the UK and Australia. This new strain is also thought to be more destructive than the Delta variants detected in India last year.

Though data is scarce, one preliminary study by a group of researchers from Chile reveals that the Lambda variant has increased transmissibility and immune escape potential, and 7 mutations – which mean that it is likely more contagious, and our bodies may not detect it at all, making it more deadly.

This variant is also dubbed “the world’s most transmissible COVID-19 strain” because it is linked to more than 80% of cases in Peru that have been recorded since April 2021.

Malaysians warned of the new Lambda variant

Lambda variant covid-19 - pandemic in Malaysia

In an attempt to find out what the discovery of the Lambda variant means for Malaysia, we reached out to The Galen Centre for Health and Public Policy, an independent public policy research and advocacy organisation.

Speaking to The Smart Local Malaysia on the new virus strain, Mr Azrul Mohd Khalib, the chief executive of the Galen Centre, warns that sooner or later, the Lambda variant that emerged in Latin America will spread to other countries including Malaysia.

“It is inevitable. The arrival of Delta was expected and we should expect the same for Lambda,” he said, adding that in order to better understand the diversity of the virus variants locally and make necessary preparations, the government needs to monitor the situation closely with increased testing and detection of the genetic sequences of COVID-19 cases here.

Azrul also suggested that newer variants of COVID-19 will continue to be reported from time to time. But it is crucial for Malaysians to not be distracted by it, but instead “focus on ensuring that the population is sufficiently protected through the vaccination programme”.

He feels that “protection against known variants is better than not having any at all” so the nation can be ready to face a new variant if or when it arrives at our shores.

New Lambda variant of COVID-19 detected in over 30 countries

The battle against COVID-19 is still ongoing and as experts say, the likelihood of newer variants of the virus being reported is certainly there. While preventing the virus from mutating is out of our hands, what we can do is to consciously practice SOPs outlined by the authorities. We also encourage those who have not got their COVID-19 vaccines to quickly register to stay protected from known variants.

Note: We’ve also reached out to the Malaysian Medical Association for their take on the new Lambda variant, and will update this article if they get back to us.

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Cover image adapted from: Governor Tom Wolf and NIH Image Gallery

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