Coronavirus

COVID-19 variants given Greek alphabet names by WHO

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The World Health Organization utilized the Greek alphabet to provide a new naming system for COVID-19 variants.

On Monday, the World Health Organization released an announcement concerning the “key” COVID-19 variants. As noted, they have given new names for the “variants of concern” and “variants of interest.”

CNN released a report, covering the latest developments. It also includes the details of the new naming system, which utilizes the Greek alphabet.

So, instead of referring to the variants based on where they were first detected, the public may now call them by letters of the said alphabet. This does not, however, replace the existing scientific names, WHO’s Technical Lead for coronavirus response, Maria Van Kerkhove said.

COVID-19 variants and their new names

There are now four COVID-19 variants of concern. The B.1.617.2 joined the category after the World Health Organization classified it as a variant of “global concern.”

Health officials first detected the strain in India. Hence, the references to it as the Indian variant. But, with the new naming system, WHO labeled it as “Delta.”

The other three variants of concern are B.1.1.7 from the U.K., B.1.351 from Africa, and P.1 from Brazil. Under their new labels, they now carry the names of “Alpha,” “Beta,” and “Gamma,” respectively.

The Greek naming system applies, as well, to the COVID-19 variants of interest, and there are six of them. These are B.1.427/429 and B.1.526 from the U.S., P.2 from Brazil, P.3 from the Philippines, B.1.617.1 from India, and B.1.525 from multiple countries.

Their new labels are “Epsilon,” “Iota,” “Zeta,” “Theta,” “Kappa,” and “Eta.”

Why the name change

The official website of the organization states that the new naming system will be “easier and more practical” to use, especially among non-scientific audiences. As noted, while the scientific names have advantages, they may entail difficulties.

The announcement also explained that there are apparent challenges when it comes to saying and recalling the scientific names. As a result, they have become more “prone to misreporting” and even misunderstanding.

Accordingly, this results, as well, to some individuals referring to them by the places where they were first detected. It is “stigmatizing and discriminatory,” the organization added.


Maria Van Kerkhove, then, said in a tweet that “no country should be stigmatized for reporting and detecting” COVID-19 variants. So, to avoid this, as well as, “simplify public communications,” the World Health Organization now encourages authorities, publications, and outlets to “adopt these new labels.”

Featured Image courtesy of World Health Organization (WHO)/YouTube

Mike Pantoja-Contreras

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Mike Pantoja-Contreras

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