Lambda Covid variant: what we know so far about its arrival in the UK and WHO advice
Cases of the Lambda Covid variant have been detected in the UK for the first time this month.
The variant was labelled as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) at the end of June because of what the World Health Organisation called 'international expansion' and because of mutations the virus was displaying that scientists might lead to it being more transmissable.
It has now been identified in eight positive coronavirus cases in England since the start of July, albeit authorities admit there could likely be more.
With less than two weeks until restrictions are set to lift, here's five things we know about it so far:
1. Where did it come from?
The Lambda variant - or C.37 - was first detected in Peru back in August 2020. But on June 14 this year it was classified as a Variant of Interest by the World Health Organisation because of cases attributed to the variant, which had started to spread noticeably in other parts of the world.
This classification was then upgraded to a Variant Under Investigation just over a week later on June 23.
In it's report the WHO said that Lambda has been associated with 'substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with rising prevalence over time concurrent with increased Covid-19 incidence'.
Unlike its predecessors Alpha and Delta - also known as the Kent and India variants - the Lambda is still one step below being called a Variant of Concern.
For this to happen, says the WHO, there needs to be more evidence of increased transmissibility or severity or that the strain impacts on measures countries are deploying to slow the spread of coronavirus.
2. Where is it now?
The Lambda variant is understood to have now been found in 29 countries or areas - with its strongest presence in South America where it was first identified.
But there are also now numerous cases being reported, alongside England there are cases in countries including the US, Canada, Spain, France and parts of Africa.
3. The UK cases
Eight cases of the Lambda variant have been identified in England to date and all since the start of July this year. Public Health England and the Department of Health say they believe all to have a link to some overseas travel.
To put it into context - there have been more than 50,000 cases of the India, or Delta variant, reported in the same time so this isn't yet a variant of coronavirus spreading in significantly large numbers in the UK.
4. What about the vaccine?
There is currently no evidence, says the government, that this variant causes more severe disease or makes the vaccines any less effective against it.
But PHE is in the process of carrying out laboratory testing to better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus and this particular variant.
The government adds that where it is needed - additional contact tracing and targeted testing will be deployed to follow up cases as part of continued efforts to limit any potential spread.
5. Why the worry?
So far the Lambda has not been identified as a concerning strain - for now it remains under investigation.
But scientists and epidemiologists, aware about how quickly both the Kent and Indian variants took off around the world, are now understandably keeping a close eye on the movement of this virus strain particularly outside of Peru and other neighbouring parts of South America.
The WHO says it is noticing 'substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries' and with restrictions on the cusp of lifting here, it's no surprise that authorities need to be sure it's not a strain that has the potential to cause great harm or outwit the vaccination programme before more freedoms are granted.