DOH reports COVID-19 variant ‘unique’ to PH, first case of Brazil variant

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 13) — The Philippines is now dealing with two other COVID-19 variants, including one that is first discovered in the country.

The Department on Health on Saturday confirmed that a new coronavirus variant called P.3 has been traced to the country but stressed that there’s not enough evidence to say whether it is a cause for concern.

Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, member of the DOH technical advisory group, explained in an online media briefing that after the Philippine Genome Center detected 85 cases “with unique set of mutations,” they submitted the information to the global reporting system Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak Lineages (PANGOLIN).

“We were waiting for them (PANGOLIN) to let us know kung ito nga ba ay unique to the Philippines or natuklasan na sa ibang bansa,” Ong-Lim said. “They've come back to us and told us na ito nga ay bagong variant.”

[Translation: We were waiting for them to let us know if this is unique to the Philippines or was already discovered in other countries. They've come back to us and told us it really is a new variant.]

In its statement, the DOH said there are now 98 cases of the P.3 variant in the country, following the recent detection of 13 more.

Ong-Lim said health authorities need more data to say whether the P.3 variant is more transmissible or causes more severe disease and increased risk of death. She said it should not be called the "Philippine variant," adding that the practice of using country names to refer to the variants should stop because it causes discrimination.

Earlier, the Japan Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare said it detected a new variant in a 60-year-old man who arrived from the Philippines at the Narita International Airport near Tokyo in February. The patient was reportedly asymptomatic.

Variant from Brazil also reaches PH

The DOH also confirmed the country’s first case of the P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil. The PGC found it in the samples of an overseas Filipino worker who returned from Brazil and hails from Western Visayas.

The DOH cited data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the transmissibility of the virus and the ability of antibodies generated through previous infection are affected by some mutations of this variant. Ong-Lim clarified, however, that this is not the same as the Brazilian variant that has been found to be more transmissible.

“What we have is isolates in the Brazilian lineage but not the Brazilian variant,” she said.

The P.1 and P.3 variants are from the same B.1.1.28 lineage, the DOH noted.

More variant cases

The latest batch to be sequenced by the PGC involved 752 samples, majority of which were from Metro Manila, Calabarzon, and the Cordillera Administrative Region, the DOH noted.

Aside from the P.1 and P.3 variants, also discovered in the recent samples are 59 more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, and 32 additional cases of the B.1.351 from South Africa. This brings the total number of UK variant cases to 177, while the country now has 90 cases of the South Africa variant. Both variants are believed to be more contagious.

Thirty of the UK variant cases are local cases – 16 from CAR, 10 from Metro Manila, and two each from Central Luzon and Calabarzon. The rest are either returning OFWs or are still under verification.

Meanwhile, of the 32 new cases of the B.1.351 variant, 21 are local cases – 19 from the capital region, and one each from Cagayan Valley and Northern Mindanao. One is an OFW, while the locations of the rest are still being verified.

The DOH stressed that observing minimum public health standards, such as wearing face mask and face shields and practicing social distancing, will prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, no matter what variant.