Update: New Covid-19 variant, Lambda, discovered – ‘not yet in SA’
Jul 2021

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This variant, first discovered in Peru, has been identified.

A brand new variant, the Lambda variant, has been identified.

While it was widely reported that it was discovered to be in circulation in South Africa, it is not yet the case. The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirmed this.

Earlier Prof. Barry Schoub, an internationally renowned virologist and Chairman of the president’s Ministerial Advisory Committee, was asked about Lambda during an interview* on PowerFM. The station reported he announced that Lambda has been detected in South Africa.

Said Schoub: “This is something which is brand new and we don’t have too much information. There is some suspicion that it may well be resistant to vaccines – which is very worrying, very concerning,” he said.

“This is a very dynamic virus. It’s a virus which keeps moving, keeps evolving and keeps escaping to some extent. This is the problem.”

The Lambda variant was first detected in Peru in South America. It is classified currently as a “Variant of Interest” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Part of this classification is that it has genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape AND identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple Covid-19 clusters in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.

It is expected that our understanding of the impacts of these variants may fast evolve, and designated Alerts for Further Monitoring from the WHO may be readily added/removed; therefore, WHO labels are not yet assigned but monitored.


Of most concern to scientists is its “potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralising antibodies” – meaning it could spread faster and be more resistant to vaccines or antibody treatments, writes The Independent.

We do not know if this variant will cause more severe disease. We also do not know if this variant could render existing vaccines less effective.

This study however suggests that the Lambda variant has a higher “immune escape” compared to the already known variants Alpha or Gamma, that is the antibodies produced in patients who were administered China’s Sinovac vaccine. No conclusive studies similar studies exist on the vaccines currently available in South Africa.

But the WHO does not want to run ahead of studies. “So far we have seen no indication that the Lambda variant is more aggressive,” Jairo Mendez-Rico, a virologist with the WHO, said. “It is possible that it may exhibit higher infection rates, but we don’t yet have enough reliable data to compare it to gamma or delta.”


The symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of smell and taste
  • A new, continuous cough

Until we understand the full impact and complexity of this variant, we should continue to fully adhere to current Covid protocols.

Continue to read our website for all the news related to the pandemic. We will keep you informed around the developments on this new variant.

For other Covid-19 news, click here.

*Schoub subsequently cleared up that Lambda was not yet detected in South Africa, despite media reports here and here.

* This article has been updated to reflect that the National Institute of Communicable Diseases has confirmed that Lambda has not yet been detected in South Africa.

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