PH discovered new COVID-19 variant earlier than Japan, expert clarifies

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Although it was Japan that first announced the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant from the Philippines, local experts have been looking into it since the early part of March, the Philippine Genome Center told CNN Philippines. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 13) — Although it was Japan that first announced the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant from the Philippines, local experts have been looking into it since the early part of March, the Philippine Genome Center told CNN Philippines.

Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma said that her team, along with the Department of Health and Epidemiology Bureau submitted data to the GISAID on March 3 after seeing new mutations on a variant. The GISAID is a global initiative that provides access to data on influenza viruses and the coronavirus.

Saloma said they got the confirmation that it was a new variant with the assigned name P.3 on March 10, two days before Japanese authorities announced that a traveler who arrived from the Philippines was infected with a variant that was distinct from those that were previously discovered in other countries.

"'Yung gusto ko lang po sabihin sa inyo na 'yung report ng Japan, huli na 'yon. Mas nauna po tayo," Saloma told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Weekend on Saturday.

[Translation: I just wanted to say that Japan's report was late. We were first.]

However, the DOH reported about the P.3 development only after Japan's report, adding that there are now 98 cases of the new variant in the country.

Saloma stressed that the World Health Organization has yet to determine if the variant is a "variant of concern" like the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, the B.1.351 from South Africa and the P.1 variant from Brazil which are also present in the country.

"Kailangan pa natin pag-aralan [We need to study] number one, what is the degree of spread or prevalence particularly in region 7? what is the degree of spread in the country? number two, is there an increase in transmissibility rate for that one?," said the expert.

Saloma stressed to the public that it is important to continue observing minimum health protocols as researchers continue to seek answers.