The Lambda variant of the coronavirus (C.37) first detected in Peru, which has the worst per capita COVID-19 death rate in the world, is believed to be more transmissible and could drive surges in new infections and hospitalization, an infectious disease expert said Tuesday.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, Dr. Rontgene Solante, a member of the government’s vaccine experts panel, said there is no scientific data yet to show the variant is more deadly, but added that it can be a risk to elderly people or those with comorbidities.
"If you talk about a variant that is highly transmissible, then that will be responsible for a surge of cases and hospitalizations. Most likely for those vulnerable, that can also be a higher risk of mortality," Solante said.
Solente said the Lambda variant, which has already been found in 30 countries, may affect the efficacy rate and a person's reaction to antibody treatments.
But Solante said COVID-19 vaccines remain effective against all COVID-19 variants in preventing severe illness and death.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in June said this variant has been associated with "substantive rates of community transmission” and listed it as a variant of interest.
Just a few days later Public Health England (PHE) declared it was a "variant under investigation.”
PHE scientists said they were concerned the strain “could spread quicker” and “be more resistant to vaccines or antibody treatments.”
But PHE stressed that “there is no evidence the Lambda variant causes more severe disease or reduces the effectiveness of current vaccines.”
“Lambda carries a number of mutations with suspected phenotypic implications, such as a potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralizing antibodies,” the PHE said. “It is characterized by mutations in the spike protein…”
The variant has spread to at least 29 territories, including the United Kingdom.
WHO said there is an increased prevalence of the variant in South American countries.
In Peru, authorities are reporting that 81 percent of COVID-19 cases sequenced since April were with the Lamda variant. In nearby Chile, the variant accounts for almost a third of new cases.
The Palace said the government is closely monitoring the development of the fast-spreading Lamda variant.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government is taking steps to prevent the entry of the Lamda variant, but noted that there are no direct flights between the Philippines and Latin America.
To prevent the new strain from entering the country, uniform protocols must be applied to all returning Filipinos without exceptions, he said.
The Palace said all returning overseas Filipinos must undergo a strict 14-day quarantine, where they will stay for 10 days in a government quarantine facility and will be tested for COVID-19 on the seventh day. If they turn out negative, they will finish their quarantine at home.
Roque said the government’s pandemic task force was open to suggestions from local governments on how to deal with fully-vaccinated travelers.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday urged stricter border controls to prevent the entry of the Lamda variant.
Duque said the Philippines has not yet detected any case of the Lambda variant, which has spread rapidly in Latin American countries.
The Delta variant is twice more infectious than the Alpha variant first reported in the UK, which is a COVID-19 mutation that is 60 percent more contagious than the virus' original strain. The DOH has reported 19 cases of the Delta variant first detected in India.
The Philippines has suspended the entry of travelers from India and six other countries to arrest the spread of the Delta variant.
There is no data yet that the Lambda variant reduces protection from vaccines, Duque said.
“All our vaccines are effective thus far,” he said.
The Philippines has tallied some 1.4 million coronavirus infections, the second highest tally in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
Authorities aim to vaccinate at least 58 million of the 110 million Filipinos this year to safely reopen the economy.
The Philippines has so far been able to administer 12 million COVID-19 shots so far.
On Monday, the DOH said two more cases of the Delta variant were detected in the country, both from returning overseas Filipinos from Saudi Arabia.
These new cases raised the total Delta variant cases in the country to 19.
The DOH said there are still no local infections of the Delta variant.
The Philippines logged 4,114 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total infections to 1,445,832.
There were 104 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 25,296.
The DOH also reported 6,086 persons who recently recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 1,370,923.
Active cases were at 49,613, of which 90.8 percent were mild, 3.9 percent were asymptomatic, 1.5 percent were critical, 2.2 percent were severe, and 1.62 percent were moderate.
The DOH also reported that, nationwide, 57 percent of the ICU beds, 47 percent of the isolation beds, 43 percent of the ward beds, and 36 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 44 percent of the ICU beds, 39 percent of the isolation beds, 33 percent of the ward beds, and 33 percent of the ventilators, were in use.