A new Covid variant thought to be more infectious than the Delta strain has been identified in more than 30 countries - including the UK.
Doctors have warned that the “Lambda” variant is more deadly than the strain first identified in India and has sparked concerns it may be resistant to vaccines.
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Where did the Lambda strain originate?
The Lambda variant originated in Peru and has been detected in more than 30 countries over the last four weeks.
Malaysian health officials have warned that the mutation is “more infectious than the Delta variant”, with Peru’s Health Ministry saying Peru is now experiencing the “highest mortality rate in the world” in a tweet posted on Monday (5 July).
The variant is rapidly spreading in the South American country, contributing to around 500 deaths per 100,000 people.
This is almost double the death recorded in Hungary, which has the second highest mortality rate at around 300 per 100,000 people, according to John Hopkins data.
Peruvian scientists first noticed the variant in December last year when it accounted for “just one in every 200 samples”.
However, by March this figure had increased to 50 per cent of cases and has since risen to a huge 82 per cent, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The rapid rise in cases indicates that the variant has a much higher rate of transmission than other Covid-19 strains.
In neighbouring Chile, the variant accounts for almost a third of cases, while six cases have been reported in the UK, all of which were linked to foreign travel.
Public Health England has declared it as a Covid Variant Under Investigation.
Is the Lambda variant resistant to vaccines?
It is thought that the Lambda variant may be resistant to Covid-19 vaccines, with researchers at the University of Chile saying it is much more infectious than both the Brazilian and UK coronavirus mutations, also known as the Alpha and Gamma variants respectively.
The researchers studied the virus in local healthcare workers who received two doses of China’s CoronaVac vaccines.
In a paper which is yet to be peer reviewed, the team wrote: "Our data show for the first time that mutations present in the spike protein of the Lambda variant confer escape to neutralising antibodies and increased infectivity.
"It is possible that it may exhibit higher infection rates, but we don't yet have enough reliable data to compare it to gamma or delta."
The L452Q spike protein of the Lambda strain, also known as C.37, is of particular concern to virologists due to its potential to infect human cells, much like the L452R mutation in the Delta variant.
The WHO classified the strain as a global Variant of Interest on 14 June and while it is thought to have mutations which increase transmissibility and potentially reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, there is not yet enough evidence to know for certain.
Jairo Mendez-Rico, WHO virologist, told German news outlet DW: “It is possible that it may exhibit higher infection rates, but we don't yet have enough reliable data to compare it to gamma or delta.
"Although it is possible, currently there is no indication that variants are more dangerous and lead to increased mortality.
"It is likely that SARS-CoV-2 will become more transmissible throughout the course of its evolution but not necessarily more damaging to the host."
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