The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that it would start using Greek letters to name new variants of COVID-19.
It comes amid concerns raised by the Indian government that labeling variants according to where they were first detected leads to increased stigmatization.
Officials at the Geneva-based UN body said this move would help simplify public discussions about variants.
For example, the variant first discovered in the UK would be known as “Alpha,” whilst the variant first identified in India would be branded “Delta.”
“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” said the WHO, explaining the decision.
How did they pick the new naming system?
The choice of the Greek alphabet came after months of deliberations in which other possibilities such as Greek gods and invented, pseudo-classical names were considered by experts, bacteriologist Mark Pallen, who was involved in the talks, told Reuters news agency.
Maria Van Kerkhove, a senior technical official at the WHO who specializes in the body’s response to COVID-19, said the name change should lessen the stigma faced by countries.
“No country should be stigmatized for detecting and reporting COVID variants,” she said.
When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet have been exhausted, another series like it will be announced, van Kerkhove said in an interview with STAT News.
“We’re not saying replace B.1.1.7, but really just to try to help some of the dialogue with the average person,” she told the US-based website, referencing the variant first discovered in the UK.
“So that in public discourse, we could discuss some of these variants in more easy-to-use language.”
Concerns over variants
On Monday, the BBC quoted a leading government scientific adviser as saying that Britain was on the cusp of a third wave of coronavirus infections owing partly to the spread of the B.1.617 variant (or Delta variant) that was first identified in India.
Experts believe it can spread more quickly than other COVID-19 variants.
French authorities have already closed their borders to arrivals from the UK “without a compelling reason” to travel amid fears it could lead to a surge in cases there.
jf/rs (Reuters, AFP)