DOH chief insists no 'Philippine variant' yet

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 15)— Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday maintained the COVID-19 variant first discovered in the country is not yet a "variant of concern," noting that more data is needed regarding its transmissibility and effects on current vaccines.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Duque refused to label the P.3 variant — first reported by the agency over the weekend — as the "Philippine variant" just yet.

"It's not (a Philippine variant) – you call it a P.3," Duque told The Source. "So far, it's not yet a variant of concern."

"Hindi malinaw kung mas mabilis ba itong kumalat or ito ba ay mas malala 'yung virulence, and hindi rin malinaw pa kung nakakaapekto rin ba ito sa effectiveness ng mga bakuna," he added.

[Translation: It is not yet clear whether this spreads faster or is more virulent, and it's also not clear if this affects the effectiveness of vaccines.]

The DOH on Saturday confirmed a new coronavirus variant called P.3 has been traced to the country, with the Philippine Genome Center detecting 85 cases "with unique set of mutations."

At the time, the DOH also avoided calling it "Philippine variant," adding that the practice of using country names to refer to variants should stop because it causes discrimination.

In a separate media forum the same day, Dr. Beverly Ho, Health Promotions bureau director, explained that the variant may be more transmissible and may likewise cause changes in the body's immune response to vaccines.

"They have been linked to possible increased transmissibility and immune escape in some studies," she said.

Aside from the P.3, the Philippines has also recorded cases of variants first discovered in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.

Duque acknowledged that the presence of these new variants may have contributed to the continuous rise in nationwide COVID-19 infections, but stressed that the recent spike was brought by a "combination" of factors including quarantine fatigue, breach of protocols, and increased mobility.