COVID-19 variants get new names based on Greek alphabet

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a new naming system for prominent variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 based on letters of the Greek alphabet. The new names are not intended to replace official scientific names, but it is hoped that they will yield labels that are easier to remember and pronounce than alphanumeric names, and less stigmatizing than the informal use of country names to identify new variants. identify.

The WHO has a list of existing “variants of concern” and “interesting variants” that have been given new labels under the Greek alphabet naming scheme. “Alpha” refers to B.1.1.7, the variant first documented in the UK, while “Delta” is B.1.617.2, which was first documented in India. In total, the WHO already has 10 letters of the 24 letter strong Greek alphabet.

Although naming diseases by geographic locations has a long history, including the Ebola virus (named after the Congolese river) and the Spanish flu, The Guardian notes, its informal use has become controversial. Former President Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “chinese viruson more than one occasion, which has been cited as contributing to a recent een wave of hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the US. The WHO calls the practice of referring to variants at their site of detection “stigmatizing and discriminatory.”

“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting variants,” said WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove in comments from The Guardian.

The name COVID-19 was officially given to the disease in February 2020. Prior to its official naming, the disease was popularly referred to as “Wuhan pneumonia” or “Wuhan flu”.