MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday confirmed that a new SARS-CoV-2 variant called P.3 has been found in the Philippines. 

"The (Philippine Genome Center) previously detected 85 cases with a unique set of mutations, including both E484K and N501Y mutations. Upon verification with the Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak Lineages (PANGOLIN), the said samples with these mutations have been reassigned to the P.3 variant," the DOH said in a statement.

With the addition of 13 cases in the latest batch of samples sequenced, it said the total P.3 variant cases in the country are 98.

The department said P.3 is from the B.1.1.28 lineage, where the P.1 variant first detected in Brazil also belongs.

At present, it is "not identified as a variant of concern" yet due to insufficient data to conclude if it will have significant public health implications.

"With respect to characterization, sa ngayon wala pa tayong sapat na datos para sabihin kung mas nakakahawa ba siya, mas nakaka-cause ba ng malubhang sakit, or mayroon bang association with a higher mortality rate (With respect to the characterization, as of now we don't have enough data to definitively say if it is more infectious, causes severe disease, or could be associated with a higher mortality rate)," Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim of the DOH-Technical Advisory Group said in a Laging Handa briefing.

Ong-Lim said they are still observing the impact of these characteristics on the particular variant they have identified.

The DOH said a variant only becomes a "variant of concern" if associated with the increase in transmissibility of the virus, increase in virulence, and decrease in the effectiveness of public health measures or available treatments.

"P.3 is still being studied to find evidence if it will fulfill (the) criteria," it said.

While it was first detected in the country, the DOH stressed that P.3 should not be called a Philippine variant but as "a variant first reported in the Philippines." (PNA)