The Department of Health (DOH) disapproved of the idea of naming coronavirus variants from their countries of origin as it might trigger stigma.

Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, expert-member of the DOH technical working group focusing on new coronavirus variants, said that the mutations N501Y and E484K which were found in Central Visayas last month are unique to the Philippines. They were assigned as the P.3 variant. 

She added that the DOH does not want calling them the “Philippine variant.”

“We want to do away with calling this as Philippine variant. It’s not an acceptable practice and we try to veer away from that,” Ong-Lim said during an online briefing.

“Kasi nga ayaw na natin ‘yung practice na ginagamit ang lugar to assign the name of the variant kasi nga medyo nakaka-cause ng discrimination, when in fact puwede naman siyang nakikita rin sa ibang lugar,” she said.

The DOH confirmed that one case of Covid-19 acquired the P.1 variant found in Brazil in a returning overseas Filipino from Western Visayas.

Thirteen cases were also detected to have mutations of possible significance (E484K and N501Y mutations).

The University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center earlier found 85 infections with a unique set of mutations, which includes 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, belonging to the B.1.1.28 lineage, to which the P.1 variant also belongs,” the DOH said.

“Thirteen additional cases were detected in this batch which bring the total P.3 variant cases in the country to 98,” it added.

“The DOH, UP-PGC, and UP-NIH emphasize that at present, the P.3 is NOT identified as a variant of concern as current available data are insufficient to conclude whether the variant will have significant public health implications,” it said. 

In the past, many diseases have been named after geographical locations where the diseases were first reported.  However the World Health Organization issued a directive in 2015 against using geographical locations, animal species, or groups of people in disease and virus names in part to prevent social stigma. 

In January 2020, the WHO recommended 2019-nCov and 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease as interim names for the virus and disease that was first reported in Wuhan, China.  The WHO gave the official name “Covid-19” on February 11, 2020. Ronald dela Cruz