There’s a new COVID-19 variant circulating in Canada, and although it hasn’t caused a large number of infections yet, officials say it may circulate more widely — especially as travel restrictions ease.
The Lambda variant — also known as C.37 — was first detected in Peru back in 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) designated it a variant of interest in June 2021.
“Lambda has been associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with rising prevalence over time concurrent with increased COVID-19 incidence,” the WHO wrote in a June epidemiological update.
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Lambda has caused many infections in South America, with Peruvian authorities saying that 81% of cases between April and June were the Lambda variant of the virus.
The strain carries several mutations that may increase its transmissibility or help it resist COVID-19 antibodies, but there is limited research on the impact of its spike protein mutations, the WHO said.
Is Lambda in Canada?
There have been 11 confirmed cases of the Lambda variant in Canada so far, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a Thursday news conference.
“We don’t know the full impact of the Lambda variant,” she said. “It’s important to work out now whether the Lambda variant has any impact on our vaccines.”
She referred to a pre-print research study that suggested current vaccines still offer protection against the Lambda variant but said her team is still monitoring the situation.
Lambda appears to be one of the dominant strains in South America, but Tam noted the Delta variant is already making gains here in Canada.
“We don’t know how Lambda will play out in population that already is occupied by the Delta variant,” Tam said.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday that the city’s public health team hasn’t yet detected any Lambda cases. But she added it’s only a matter of time before the variant comes to Toronto as international travel picks up.
“There is so much movement from one country to the next,” she said. “We know that none of us are protected if we are not all protected.”
She added new variants continuing to crop up only points to the need for further vaccination because the fewer COVID-19 infections that exist the fewer opportunities the virus will have to mutate.
At this time, 67% of the country has had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 27% of the population is fully vaccinated.