Lambda variant could reach SA or may already be here, undetected - expert
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Cape Town - Local health officials remain cautious after the discovery of the Lambda Covid-19 variant, first detected in Peru.
The earliest documented sample of the variant was in December. However, it was only designated as a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization on June 14.
By the time of its designation, it had spread across South America, and was reported in 31 countries.
UCT’s School of Public Health and Family Medicine head, Professor Landon Myer, said new variants were always of possible concern, but not much information on the Lambda variant was available to have more than a general concern..
“The process of mutation is part of all life forms and exceedingly common in viruses. We should expect to see new mutations continue to emerge, and while we should be generally concerned about what new variants may do, only a small fraction will be of special importance to population health,” said Myer.
He said the Lambda variant could reach the country, or already be here, undetected.
Consultant virologist at UCT and Groote Schuur Complex of the National Health Laboratory Service, Dr Marvin Hsiao, said there was not enough information on whether vaccine effectiveness would be affected by the new variant.
“As we have seen with Delta, any variant seen to have wide international circulation will find its way into South Africa. We don’t know whether Lambda has the potential to transmit widely across the world like Delta. Currently Lambda is not detected in our surveillance network,” said Dr Hsiao.
“A virus’s evolution occurs rapidly as it establishes itself in a new species. The mutations we see in coronavirus are actually relatively slow, considering the number of infections.”
The number of confirmed cases reported nationwide breached 2 million. According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases is 2 090 909, as at Tuesday. Nationally, around 62 628 people have succumbed to the virus.
The Western Cape reported 25 343 active cases, 339 632 confirmed cases, with 301 556 recoveries, as of Wednesday. The Western Cape has conducted 450 810 vaccinations to date. Around 12 733 people had died from the virus, as of Wednesday.