June 29, 2021 -- A new coronavirus variant that has infected thousands in South America has now been discovered in the UK.
Classified as a "variant of interest" by the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 17, the lambda variant has been detected in 29 nations — seven of them in Latin America. In Peru, where it was first identified, the lambda variant now accounts for 82% of new infections.
Now, 6 cases of this COVID-19 variant have been found in the UK, all linked to overseas travel.
Public Health England (PHE) say that the Lambda variant has been designated as a variant under investigation (VUI) due to a rise in international cases and several notable mutations.
Virologist Pablo Tsukayama and his team at Lima's Cayetano Heredia University have traced the evolution of the lambda variant in Peru for months after identifying it through genome testing.
"With 187,000 dead and the highest mortality rates in the world, we are the country that has struggled most when it comes to the coronavirus,” Tsukayama told DW news. “Therefore, it is probably no wonder that the new variant has gotten its start here."
Alpha (B.1.1.7), beta (B.1.351), delta (B.1.617.2) and gamma (P.1) are categorized as "variants of concern" by the WHO. The classification indicates that they are more transmissible and more difficult to treat.
"So far we have seen no indication that the lambda variant is more aggressive," the WHO virologist Jairo Mendez-Rico said. "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."
PHE said tests were ongoing and there is currently no evidence this variant causes more severe disease or renders vaccines less effective.
A further 514 people were admitted to hospital in England with Covid-19 in the week up to June 21. Of these, 304 were unvaccinated.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 153,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.