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Government experts not as worried over COVID-19 Lambda variant

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Government experts not as worried over COVID-19 Lambda variant
Pedestrians walk past a tribute mural for frontliners painted by Angono artists at the triage area of the Mission Hospital in Pasig City on June 15, 2021.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The Delta variant of COVID-19 is a greater cause for worry, government experts said Monday after the Department of Health confirmed the first case of the Lambda variant in the Philippines.

The Philippines' first known case of the Lambda variant, which was first detected in Peru and has spread in other South American countries, is a 35-year-old female who tested positive in July. Health authorities said she has since recovered.

Cynthia Saloma, executive director of the Philippine Genome Center, said at a Palace press briefing that the Lambda variant has not been associated with the rise in COVID-19 infections in countries where it was detected.

"I am more concerned with Delta compared to Lambda," Saloma said.

"We in the Philippine Genome Center and the regional epidemiology surveillance units... are on alert and we are monitoring the spread of Delta, Lambda and other variants of concern in the country, and we will report this to you as soon as we can," she added.

Saloma advised the public to follow safety protocols and to avoid going out of their homes except for essential trips. She also reiterated the importance of getting inoculated against COVID-19, noting that the vaccines are effective in preventing hospitalization, critical cases and COVID-related deaths.

Infectious diseases expert Edsel Salvaña said Lambda is considered a variant of interest, a level lower than variants of concern like Delta.

"It seems that it has mutations that can affect the efficacy of our vaccines but it is not yet proven," Salvaña said.

"The US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does not even consider the Lambda variant as a variant of interest. So, we really need to monitor it. For me, Delta is more frightening and whatever we are doing against Delta will also work for Lambda," he added. 

According to the CDC, a variant of interest has specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity. 

A variant of concern, meanwhile, was described as a variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.

Palace: Variant nothing to worry about

The president's spokesperson meanwhile said that the Lambda case is nothing to worry about.

"Ngayong araw po, ang importanteng narinig natin sa ating mga tunay na mga eksperto ay: Una, wala pong dapat ikabahala na nandiyan na si Lambda variant (Today, it is important that we heard our true experts. First, there is nothing to worry about the detection of the Lambda variant here)," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at the same press briefing.

"It's just one case and regardless of the variant, our weapons are the same — wearing face masks, frequent handwashing, physical distancing, and vaccines," he added.

Roque said the government would continue to implement its prevention, detection, isolation, and treatment strategies to contain COVID-19, which has so far infected more than 1.7 million people in the Philippines. He also cited the imposition of a travel ban on ten countries that has been extended until the end of the month.

"There is no other alternative but our PDITR (prevention, detection, isolation, treatment, and reintegration). We still have to wear face masks, wash our hands, observe physical distance and continue our vaccination," the Palace spokesman.

"Regardless of the variant, our response will be the same. Perhaps, as we deal with more infectious and deadly variants, we have to intensify our wearing of face masks, washing of hands, physical distancing, and vaccination," he added.

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