Lambda variant is not a concern for Africa yet; the Delta variant is — De Oliveira

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published Jul 8, 2021

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THE new Covid-19 Lambda variant which has caught the attention of health experts around the world has not yet been detected in Africa. However, the real cause for concern is the Delta variant which is driving the third wave of infections on the continent.

In a World Health Organization (WHO) Africa online briefing on Thursday, Professor Tulio de Oliveira from the Network for Genomic Surveillance SA (NGS-SA) said the continent has been alerted about the Lambda variant and is increasing genomic testing.

“At the moment, the Lambda variant is not a big concern. The real concern is the Delta variant that is much more transmissible and is causing a large number of infections and a very big third wave,”

The Lambda variant, also known as C.37, was first detected in Peru in December 2020 and has since spread to 30 countries.

South American countries which were hardest hit by the variant were Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.

The WHO identified the Lambda variant as a "variant of interest" in June.

“At the moment, the WHO and various agencies are looking very carefully at the Lambda variant and if it starts increasing in prevalence in places that have other variants of concern dominating, it will very quickly move to a variant of concern,” said De Oliveira.

In South Africa, the Delta variant is dominant and accounts for around 80% of the new Covid-19 cases in the country.

According to data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the NGS-SA, the delta variant has been detected in all nine provinces in the country and is driving the third wave of infections.

The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is beginning to replace the Beta variant which was the driving force behind the country’s second wave.

The variant was first detected in the beginning of May after four people tested positive for the variant. Two cases were from Gauteng and two from KwaZulu-Natal.

Now, the variant is most prevalent in Gauteng which is the country’s economic hub.

“We found that a fast increase of prevalence of the Delta variant is equivalent to an exponential growth of new Covid-19 infections in the country.”

“This Delta variant is set to dominate, not only South Africa’s infections, but also Africa’s infections on the continent. Around 75% of the recent genomes recorded in Africa is the Delta variant and it has entered all regions of the continent,” he said.

Currently, there is no evidence of vaccine escape with the Delta variant. De Oliveira said that now, more than ever, it is time to increase vaccinations.

WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said Africa has marked its worst pandemic week ever and is surpassing the second wave peak.

“During the week which ended on the fourth of July, there were more than 251 000 cases, which is a 20% increase since the previous week,” she said.

“A few weeks ago, we projected this milestone would be reached shortly and it really brings me no joy to have been right.

Africa has recorded over 5.7 million Covid-19 cases and 148 000 deaths.

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