Multiple variants of the virus behind COVID-19 are circulating in Canada, and lambda has now joined their ranks.
Cases are being reported across much of the country, and while the numbers are still small, public health officials are keeping a close eye on this variant of interest first identified in South America.
So what do Canadians need to know about lambda? Here’s the latest:
What is the lambda variant?
Lambda, or C.37, is one of the latest variants of the virus behind COVID-19, and it’s now being reported in Canada.
The first samples were found in Peru back in August 2020, but it was only deemed a variant of interest by the World Health Organization (WHO) in mid-June.
“Lambda has been associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with rising prevalence over time concurrent with increased COVID-19 incidence,” reads an epidemiological update from the WHO released on June 15.
How widespread is it?
In Canada, 11 cases of the variant have been reported as of July 5, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told CBC News in a statement.
PHAC is “monitoring carefully” for more cases and research tied to the variant’s transmissibility and vaccines’ effectiveness against it, said spokesperson Anne Génier.
According to the WHO, lambda has also been reported in dozens of other countries.
So far, it’s hitting South America the hardest. The variant has been on the rise in countries beyond Peru such as Ecuador, Argentina and Chile — and in the latter, it recently accounted for more than a third of all the country’s sequenced cases.
What makes lambda worth keeping an eye on?
Lambda carries a “number of mutations,” according to the WHO, which may make it more transmissible or resistant to neutralizing antibodies.
“There are mutations on the spike protein portion of the virus, which as we know is one of the important pieces of the virus, and the mutations are slightly different than some of the previous mutations we’ve seen,” said Dr. Lucas Castellani, an infectious diseases specialist at the Sault Area Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“That said, what we don’t know is what all of this means.”
So far, there’s “limited evidence” on the impact of the changes to the spike protein, the WHO notes, but public health teams around the world are hoping to learn more about how the variant operates.
Dr. Anthony Chow, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia’s division of infectious diseases, also cautioned that the strain has the potential to turn into a variant of concern.
“It is highly transmissible, and that it has been a hallmark of variants of concern — the way they spread,” said Chow.
WATCH | Physician explains what we know — and don’t — about the lambda variant:
Do vaccines work against this variant?
Despite its multiple mutations, there’s early evidence that yes, vaccines likely protect you from getting infected by lambda.
A recent U.S. lab-based study — which was published online, but has not yet been peer-reviewed — suggests that the “vaccines in current use will remain protective against the lambda variant and that monoclonal antibody therapy will remain effective.”
But the WHO stressed that further studies are still needed to “validate the continued effectiveness of vaccines.”
Chow stressed the need for Canadians to keep getting vaccinated to protect themselves as best as possible.
“Those who hesitate about getting their vaccines, they’re still starting to have doubts or worrying about side effects,” he said, “but the real harm from infection by the virus is so much greater than any possible side effects.”
How worried should Canadians be?
Most Canadians shouldn’t be too worried about lambda, experts told CBC News — at least not yet.
“If you’re vaccinated, I think it’s not too concerning,” said Castellani. “We’re changing this virus from one that causes severe illness, death, and debilitation to patients to one that’s manageable.”
But as the country keeps loosening restrictions, he warned some Canadians will bear the brunt of the variant’s spread.
“We’ll probably see more cases as more people are travelling,” he continued. “Also, we’ve reduced restrictions at the border to some degree … it’s almost impossible to prevent future transmission events from happening.”
Jeffrey Joy, an assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases with the University of British Columbia’s department of medicine, agreed there’s no cause for alarm just yet — but he also stressed the need to keep monitoring for this, and other, virus variants.
“What we really need to do in Canada is set up a good system of molecular surveillance, so that we can act on the hotspots of new variants as they arise in Canada before they spread widely in the population,” he said.
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All three levels of government, police, organizers granted full standing on inquiry
OTTAWA — The commissioner of the inquiry examining Ottawa’s use of the Emergencies Act to bring an end to the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest in February has granted standing to the organizers, police and representatives of all three levels of government.
The decision by Paul Rouleau means those granted standing will be given advance notice on information submitted into evidence before the inquiry, and also gives them certain privileges, such as the opportunity to suggest or cross-examine witnesses.
Those granted full standing in the public inquiry include the federal, Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, the cities of Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., the Ottawa Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police and the organizers of the convoy, including Tamara Lich, Tom Marazzo and Chris Barber.
Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly will be allowed to produce documents, make submissions on factual, evidentiary and policy-related issues and examine witnesses, and the Manitoba government has been granted permission to provide written submissions.
However, Rouleau denied standing to the Conservative Party of Canada and several participants of the protests, some of whom had their bank accounts frozen under the Act.
Rouleau said it is important that the inquiry remain an independent, non-partisan process, noting there is also the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Declaration of Emergency reviewing the use of the Act’s powers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Ottawa police say they're ready to shut down Canada Day occupation attempts – CBC.ca
Ottawa city officials say they are prepared for a “unique” Canada Day, with plans to keep anti-government protests from turning into another occupation.
The traditional nationally broadcast shows are returning for the first time since 2019, this time from the plaza in front of the Canadian War Museum because of ongoing construction on Parliament Hill.
Ottawa police say they expect more protests and larger crowds than usual during Canada Day celebrations as groups related to the Freedom Convoy continue to plan demonstrations. Some in those groups have indicated they’d like to protest through July and August.
“This is expected to be a unique Canada Day, with larger crowds and a larger event footprint,” interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell said during a Monday news conference.
“We’ve developed our plans in the shadow of the unlawful protests and Rolling Thunder event. We’ve been speaking with community members and businesses and we’re very aware of the lingering trauma and concern about what they’re hearing after those events.”
Bell said officers will allow legal protests while shutting down illegal activities, including setting up structures or speakers without a permit and the threat of occupation, like on downtown streets in the winter.
He said police have been following online commentary and trying to talk to people who’ve said they’re coming to protest.
“[We’ve] planned, we’re prepared and we have the resources,” Bell replied when answering a question about whether police were ready to step in again like they did in late April, when attempts to gather near the Rideau Centre mall were shut down by officers.
Provincial police and the RCMP have offered help to shut down occupation attempts as long as there’s a risk, he said.
The Ottawa Police Services Board received an update on plans for Canada Day when it met Monday evening.
Bell spoke about the toll recent months have taken on officers, noting the demand is not “sustainable” and describing police as “fatigued” ahead of the long weekend.
“For this event we’ve actually had to cancel days off, we’ve cancelled discretionary time off, called people back from annual leave,” said the chief. “This is an all hands on deck event, but that has a cost on the health and wellbeing of our members.”
At least 5 days of traffic control
Last week, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told people thinking of coming to the capital “not to be intimidated by individuals who may be coming to Ottawa to cause trouble.”
He said Monday he wants this to be a safe, festive event for children and families and that people who “come to disrupt” will be dealt with, without a warning.
Bell told the police board that the force has been clear with its expectations for demonstrators, and that harassment won’t be tolerated.
“If there is a hate or bias crime incidents, if there’s intimidation or threats, we will actively investigate those,” he said, adding police know residents have “scars” from the occupation.
“I want to reassure you that those feelings, that trauma that our community has felt is front and centre in all of our planning efforts and will be front and centre in our response efforts.”
Overall, Bell said police are expecting hundreds of thousands of people downtown. For comparison, an estimated 56,000 people went to the shows on Parliament Hill in 2019 and that doesn’t count everyone celebrating nearby.
There will be the traditional Canada Day road closures Friday July 1 and early Saturday, though there are more closures near LeBreton Flats because of that change in show location.
But Ottawa police are establishing another “vehicle exclusion zone” — similar to what was set up in late April for the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally — with no street parking at all and no protest vehicles allowed in from 8 a.m. this Wednesday until at least 6 a.m. on Monday, July 4.
Those plans may change if needed, officials said Monday. People are asked to plan ahead, expect delays and check city pages and local media for updates.
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