Covid-19 variants must be familiar with letters of the Greek alphabet to avoid stigmatizing countries where they were first discovered, the World Health Organization announced Monday.
The new system applies to variants of concern — the most troubling of which there are four in circulation — and the second-level variants that are being tracked.
“They will not replace existing scientific names, but are intended to aid in public discussion,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Covid-19 technical leader.
Under the new system, the variants concerned will be given the following names: the previously so-called British variant B.1.1.7 will become Alpha; the B.1.351 first discovered in South Africa becomes Beta while the Brazilian P.1 becomes Gamma.
The so-called Indian variant B.1.617 is split into sublines, of which the worrying B.1.617.2 variant becomes Delta.
The interesting variant B.1.617.1 is called Kappa.
In addition to these names, two other scientific names are in use for each mutation, while different geographical names have been used to describe the same variant.
In Britain, for example, what other countries refer to as the British variant is often referred to as the Kent variant – the county in South East England where it was first discovered.
The parentage names such as B.184.108.40.206 will still be used in scientific circles for the mutation information that their name conveys.
‘Stigmatizing and discriminatory’
“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and remember, and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO said in a statement.
As a result, people often resort to calling variants where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory.
“To avoid this and simplify public communication, WHO is encouraging national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.”
Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden signed a hate crime law designed to protect Asian Americans who suffered a wave of attacks during the Covid-19 pandemic.
US anti-extremism groups say the number of attacks and hate crimes against Asian Americans has exploded since the beginning of the crisis.
They blamed former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “China virus.”
The WHO has been trying to come up with a simplified new nomenclature for the variants for several months now.
The Greek alphabet contains 24 letters, but there is no plan to turn to when they run out.
Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta and Iota have already been attributed to interesting variants.