The lambda variant has certain traits that could make it the “most dangerous” strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, but Chinese experts are not worried. Here’s why.
Delta Variant Reaches Japan
Japan’s health ministry officials announced on Friday that they have found their first lambda case in the country — a woman in her 30s who arrived at Haneda Airport on July 20 after taking a flight from Peru, the reported place of origin of the variant.
The woman had tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the airport despite not showing symptoms. Her samples were taken to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the facility was the one to confirm that she had the delta variant, according to the Japan Times.
The news has since been met with fear and anxiety as countries in the Asia-Pacific region are currently grappling with the surge in cases brought about by the delta variant. The appearance of the lambda variant in the region also poses the risk of having more economic problems as scientists from different parts of the world have claimed the new strain to potentially be the most dangerous among the newer variants.
What Makes Delta Very Dangerous
In a study published on the bioRxiv server, a team of scientists used molecular phylogenetic analysis to better understand the lambda variant. The researchers were able to establish the two distinct traits of the lambda variant that are making it more virulent than other strains. First, the lambda variant is resistant to viral-induced immune responses (such as the case in vaccinations). Next, it has two mutations that enhance its rate of transmission.
The findings of the study corroborate previous studies that have determined the higher infectivity of the lambda, delta and epsilon variants, as all three have the L452Q/R mutation. The delta variant, which was first identified in India, is the one that is currently wreaking havoc in many parts of the world. On the other hand, the epsilon variant, which was first detected in California, is the one that is predominantly spreading in Pakistan, as per NJ.com.
While the World Health Organization has designated the delta variant as a “variant of concern,” it has given a lower designation to the lambda variant by classifying it as a “variant of interest.” Nevertheless, experts have indicated that the lambda variant is quite capable of causing an epidemic, according to News-Medical.Net.
“I think any time a variant is identified and demonstrates the capacity to rapidly spread in a population, you have to be concerned,” Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told CNN recently. “The question is, do those mutations give the virus some sort of advantage, which of course is to human disadvantage? The answer in lambda is yes.”
What Chinese Experts Are Saying
Despite the concerns over the newer strains, especially the lambda variant, Chinese experts are not worried. According to them, the vaccines produced by China-based manufacturers are still effective against the lambda variant. They also theorized that while the strain caused a spike in cases in Southern America and in other places in the Southern Hemisphere, the variant won’t be able to proliferate easily in countries found in the Northern Hemisphere.
Zhuang Shilihe, an expert based in China’s Guangzhou City, told the Global Times that the latest scientific studies in South American countries, such as Chile and Peru, have shown that the vaccines deployed by Chinese manufacturers are still effective against the lambda variant. Shilihe even pointed out that the percentage of new cases caused by the lambda variant in such places is already declining.
Another Beijing-based expert who spoke with the Global Times on condition of anonymity maintained that the lambda variant is unlikely to dominate in Japan and other countries in the Northern Hemisphere as these places are currently experiencing the summer season, and the temperatures there are not suitable for the transmission of the new variant, which was first identified in the Southern Hemisphere.