The new mutation of the coronavirus, known as P3, was detected in two people, one in London and one in the city of Birmingham in central England. The Birmingham case was picked up through routine testing after the patient arrived in the country through Birmingham Airport, where he was quarantined. The London case was picked up through mass testing.
The Birmingham patient had recently traveled to the Philippines. The London patient's infection is still being investigated, and health officials are still unsure of where the patient contracted P3.
Public Health England (PHE), the main agency that executes health policies in England, is concerned about P3 because it has mutations that are also present in variants discovered in southern England, South Africa and Brazil. (Related: Another Plandemic? P1 said to be "a different pandemic from the one we saw last year" – Brazil is the target.)
PHE said the P3 strain has the same E484K spike protein found in the mutation from Brazil and the same N501Y spike protein found in the variant discovered in southern England. Scientists have linked both of these mutations to an increase in viral transmission.
The E484K protein possibly helps the coronavirus dodge the body's immune defenses, while the N501Y mutation helps the coronavirus bind more easily to ACE2 receptors. ACE2 is an enzyme present in the membranes of the human heart, kidney and lung cells. If these cells are compromised, it can increase the virus's range and transmission.
The P3 strain was discovered in early March when dozens of cases of it were announced in the Philippines. PHE has designated it as a "variant under investigation," one of six strains of the coronavirus discovered in the U.K. that health officials are pouring time and resources into thoroughly understanding.
The discovery of the P3 strain in England comes as more cases of the Brazilian strain were uncovered in the country. PHE say that it will ramp up its mass testing programs in Birmingham and London. Meanwhile contact tracing teams have been called up to investigate if the two P3 patients have been in contact with anybody before they were admitted.
The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) announced the detection of the new COVID-19 variant on Saturday, Mar. 13. As part of the announcement, it clarified that this strain is "more accurately described as a variant first reported in the Philippines," rather than a "Philippine variant" of the coronavirus.
"The [World Health Organization] discourages use of places to identify variants," said the DOH. "The so-called U.K. and South African variants were tagged because these variants were first reported in these countries."
Even though the P3 variant found in the Philippines contains the N501Y and E484K mutation, local health officials have attempted to downplay its potential impact on the outbreak in the Philippines. They've said that it is still "not identified as a variant of concern as current available data are insufficient to conclude whether the variant will have significant public health implications."
But at the same time, the DOH reported that at least 98 cases in the country were potentially caused by the P3 variant.
In an interview, Philippine Genome Center executive director Cynthia Saloma said they believed that the P3 variant was "locally developed" after having comparing it with 600,000 samples of the coronavirus in their database and finding it to be unique.
Saloma agreed with the DOH's assessment that there's not enough evidence to conclude that the P3 mutation will significantly impact public health impact. But she agreed that P3 might be more transmissible than the more common, original strain of the coronavirus circulating in the country.
"We're not saying it's more infectious, but its mutation suggests that it's possible that it is more transmissible," she said in Filipino during the interview.
When Saloma was asked about whether the P3 variant is deadlier, she answered in the negative. "What we're saying about increased pathogenicity is that symptoms will not worsen, it's not deadly if you're not immunocompromised … What we're monitoring here is its increased transmissibility."
While the P3 variant most likely originated in the Philippines, there has been some confusion about which country reported it first. The DOH insists that it had found out about the new variant first. But on Mar. 12, Japanese health officials confirmed this new virus type from a passenger from the Philippines who arrived in the country on Feb. 25.
Learn more about the many variants of the coronavirus spreading all over the world by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.