Covid variants will be renamed using Greek letters - here's why

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 9:43 am

Covid variants will now be named after letters of the Greek alphabet to avoid “stigma”, the World Health Organisation has announced. 

Instead of being named after the place they were discovered, experts working with the WHO have developed the new labels for variants of the virus.

Four variants of concern, including B.1.1.7 known as the UK/Kent variant, have been renamed. 

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The variant will now be given the letter Alpha, while the B.1.617.2 variant, often known as the Indian variant, has been labelled Delta, while B.1.351, often referred to as the South African variant, has been named Beta.

Meanwhile, the P.1 Brazilian variant has been labelled Gamma.

‘Stigmatising and discriminatory’

The WHO said these labels were chosen after wide consultation and a review of many naming systems.

The organisation said the labels do not replace existing scientific names, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research.

“While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting,” the WHO said.

“As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory.

“To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.”