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Lambda looms over Sri Lanka as more returnees test positive for COVID-19

With more repatriates entering the country, Sri Lanka is facing a possible threat of the newly identified Lambda variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, officials said.

The government has been repatriating Sri Lankans from abroad since last year. So far over 200,000 have returned from Europe and the Middle East, official data shows.

A considerable number of COVID-19 cases are detected daily among repatriate groups in quarantine.

“We have taken all precautions to prevent any other variants coming into the country,” Deputy Health Services Director Dr Hemantha Herath said Wednesday (07).

“But when thousands are flying in, one or two may carry the virus without being detected by authorities. Whatever the variant, people should continue to follow health guidelines,” he said.

The Lambda variant was classified as a variant of interest (VOI) at the global level by the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 15.

The WHO said on June 14 that a variant assigned to Pango lineage C.37, GISAID clade GR/452Q.V1, NextStrain clade 20D, was designated as a global VOI, and assigned the label “Lambda”.

This variant has been monitored as an alert for an extended period, and upon more information and updated assessments, is now considered as meeting the VOI working definition based upon evidence of continued emergence and suspected phenotypic implications, international media reported. Lambda has been associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with rising prevalence over time concurrent with increased COVID-19 incidence, reports said.

The earliest sequenced samples were reported from Peru in August 2020. As of 15 June 2021, over 1730 sequences have been uploaded to GISAID from 29 countries/territories/areas in five WHO regions.

Elevated prevalence has been noted particularly in South America in countries such as Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Argentina, according to reports.

“Authorities in Peru reported that 81 percent of COVID-19 cases sequenced since April 2021 were associated with Lambda. Argentina reported an increasing prevalence of Lambda since the third week of February 2021, and between April 2 and  May 19,2021, the variant accounted for 37 percent of the COVID-19 cases sequenced. In Chile, prevalence of Lambda has increased over time, accounting for 32 percent of sequenced cases reported in the last 60 days – co-circulating at similar rates to variant Gamma (33 percent), but outcompeting variant Alpha (4 percent) over the same period,” WHO’s COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update said.

Lambda carries a number of mutations with suspected phenotypic implications, such as a potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralizing antibodies.6 It is characterised by mutations in the spike protein, including G75V, T76I, del247/253, L452Q, F490S, D614G and T859N; however, there is currently limited evidence on the full extent of the impact associated with these genomic changes, and further robust studies into the phenotypic impacts are needed to better understand the impact on countermeasures and to control the spread. Further studies are also required to validate the continued effectiveness of vaccines.

Sri Lanka’s current dominant variant is the Alpha strain, but 19 samples in the community have tested positive for the more transmissible Delta variant.

Variants of concern

Alpha B.1.1.7
Beta B.1.351
Gamma P.1
Delta B.1.617.2

Variants of Interest

Epsilon B.1.427/ B.1.429Zeta P.2Eta B.1.525Theta P.3Iota B.1.526Kappa B.1.617.1Lambda C.37

Meanwhile Administrating the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine as the second dose for the people who received AstraZeneca Covishield as the first dose started from June 07, in vaccination centers in the western province.

Dr Herath told reporters Wednesday that the Pfizer jab can be administrated to all above 16 years of age. However, due to the limited number of doses available, priority has been given to citizens 55-69 years old in the western province.

The government information department said Tuesday (06) that residents in Colombo 01 to 15 who have received a dose of AstraZeneca will get receive an SMS from their local Medical Officer of Health (MOH) with information on when and where to get the jab.