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New coronavirus variant found in the Philippines

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Researchers in the Philippines have discovered a new coronavirus variant which belongs to the same lineage as the Brazilian variant, officials say, but there’s currently not enough data to determine whether it poses a public health threat.

The health department said in a statement Saturday that the Philippine Genome Center had recently found a unique set of mutations, including both E484K and N501Y mutations, in 85 cases. The number of confirmed cases has since risen to 98.

“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, belonging to the B.1.1.28 lineage, to which the P.1 variant also belongs,” the department said.

P.1 is what is commonly referred to as the Brazilian coronavirus variant. Both P.1 and the new P.3 variants have mutations in the spike protein, including E484K and N501Y mutations. This raises concern about the potential for increased transmissibility and immune escape.

It’s still unclear whether the new variant in the Philippines will also be designated as a variant of concern. “Current available data are insufficient to conclude whether the variant will have significant public health implications,” the health department said.

On Friday, Japan’s health ministry said a traveler from the Philippines had been infected with a new coronavirus variant which poses a similar level of threat as those first discovered in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil. The traveler, a man in his 60s, was asymptomatic.

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